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Closed clinic referring patients to new facility

A small but much-appreciated segment of Brookhaven’s health carecommunity has ceased operations, ending a 16-year run after theselfless doctor in charge decided to embark upon his secondretirement.

Brookhaven’s Dr. David Strong, 70, has stepped down as thevolunteer physician at Brookhaven Outreach Ministries Clinic after10 years of service. With no other doctors lined up to volunteer inStrong’s stead, outreach founder and director the Rev. Jerry Durrhas decided to close the clinic and refer its weekly patients tothe newly established Family Health Care Clinic on Highway 51.

“There’s a point where you have to move on,” Strong said. “Idon’t want a patient I felt like wasn’t getting the best medicationfor what they have. I felt like it was time to move on and givesomeone else that opportunity.”

Strong first came to the clinic in August 1998, one month afterhe retired from his own practice in July of that year. He didn’tknow he’d almost immediately resume practicing medicine – this timefor no pay – but he knew he needed a change.

“I didn’t necessarily know I would get out of medicine, but Iknew I was going to change,” Strong said. “Medicine was changing.The direction of medicine was changing to more a business field andnot a compassionate field. I always said I didn’t leave medicine,medicine left me. I went into medicine for compassion.”

Plenty of compassion lay ahead. Founded in 1993, the BrookhavenOutreach Ministries Clinic was designed to serve poor and uninsuredpatients and distribute free medication – which it gathered fromrequests to pharmaceutical companies and sample donations fromlocal doctors.

“We became known not only for who we saw, but for the medicinewe provided,” Strong said. “We would get references from theemergency room, McComb, Monticello – people would get dischargedfrom the hospital, and they would give them some prescriptions andthey couldn’t get them filled. They just couldn’t afford it. We hadto almost have a person who that’s all she did was order medicationfor people.”

Strong said the scramble to keep medication on the clinic’sshelves “put (them) under the gun a little bit.” The crunchcontinued until a major retailer unveiled its Four-Dollar Pharmacyplan in 2006, which allows almost 100 types of generic medicines tobe prescribed for a monthly charge of $4.

Strong said the clinic eventually picked up so many regularpatients that his volunteering got to be like a practice on itsown. The clinic continued to be visited by new, needy faces, but acore of more than 30 regular patients developed.

“I figured it up, and with the hours, the services and themedications, over 10 years we gave over $1 million,” Strong said.”That group never could have paid that.”

Of course, Strong couldn’t dole out $1 million worth of freemedical service alone. He has been joined over the years be a teamof volunteers, among them his wife, Debra Strong, a registerednurse, former nursing teacher at Southwest Mississippi CommunityCollege and currently the faculty enrichment officer forBrookhaven’s Hurst Review Service, a company that provides reviewservices for students taking their registry exams.

“The Lord always sent us someone, and someone good,” she said ofthe clinic’s volunteers. “We had a lot of really great people comeand volunteer with us. It’s been a faith journey – it’s beenamazing how we’ve been able to watch the Lord work in people’slives and use us as the tools to help them get there. We’ll missit, because it meant a lot to us as well.”

If he gets sentimental and starts missing his service, Dr. DavidStrong has a plan.

“I always say if I miss it, I’ll just go down and sit on thefront bench at Wal-Mart. I can’t go in Wal-Mart without peoplestopping me to talk and asking about their medicine,” he said.

The clinic’s patients shouldn’t miss a beat. Family Health CareClinic President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Margaret Gray saidthe office is ready to receive the outreach clinic’s patients,saying her facility is up and running and is scheduled to add adentist to its staff next month.

Gray said her clinic will treat patients based on income, andwill be able to provide reduced and sometimes free medicationthrough its participation in the Pharmacy Assistance Program. Shewelcomes the influx of patients.

“That’s exactly why we are here – to serve people who have aneed,” Gray said. “It seems like it was very timely.”

Durr also believes the closing of his clinic and the opening ofGray’s is timely, even divine.

It’s a big load the outreach clinic is transferring. Accordingto Durr’s records, in 2008 the clinic saw 469 patients and provideda total of $72,760 of equivalent service free of charge.

“We feel that God just had this other one open up and they’ll beable to meet those needs,” he said. “This other clinic came just intime. They’re already open and doing business, so we’re just goingto do referrals to them and focus on our food bank and otherministries. We’ve got more than enough to keep us busy.”