St. Andrew’s Free Clinic: On a mission of free medical care

Published 11:15 am Monday, April 24, 2023

In 2020, nurse Allyson Smith was trying to figure out where and how she could best serve others. She was working as the nurse at St. Andrew’s Free Medical Clinic in McComb.

“I witnessed what a good resource that clinic is for their community and how much it is truly needed for some patients,” Smith said.

So she set up a meeting with St. Andrew’s Mission and told them she felt a similar clinic was needed in her home of Brookhaven.

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“They graciously agreed to partner with me on the endeavor,” she said. “It took a year to get the doors open, but we are hear! July of 2023 will make two years.”

The Brookhaven clinic is open by appointment only at 217 North Whitworth Ave.

“I have always been an ER nurse and have seen firsthand how the emergency room is often used as a primary care clinic, and it shouldn’t be,” said Smith. “Using it as a walk-in/primary care clinic takes away beds from the true emergencies that could potentially come in, causing patients to have to be moved around or placed in the hallways while they wait for an available bed. It also extends the time you must wait to be seen by a provider.”

Another consideration is the monetary loss to hospitals. Resources are used without generating a return income for the hospital to replace those resources, and patients’ bills are being paid, Smith said.

“Emergency Room visits come with a hefty price tag and people without insurance simply can’t afford it,” she said. “Let’s be honest, those of us with insurance can’t afford Emergency Room visits, either.”

Many patients have resorted to using the ER as a primary care clinic because they simply have had no other option. They have no insurance and cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for a visit to a primary care physician.
“Quite literally, they cannot live without their medications, so what are they supposed to do?”

This is where St. Andrew’s Free Medical Clinic can help. St. Andrew’s Mission is a non-profit organization comprised of multiple facilities — two medical clinics, a food pantry, and six thrift stores. In addition to the thrift store at 118 East Monticello St. in Brookhaven, there are stores in McComb, Natchez, Vidalia, Vicksburg and Columbia.

The building in the downtown Brookhaven area where the clinic is located has been completely renovated to provide a nice, clean clinic for its clients.

“The purpose of St. Andrew’s Free Clinic is to provide medical care to those without health insurance,” Smith said. “According to 2020 U.S. Census data, this accounts for just over 2,000 residents of Brookhaven, plus more in surrounding communities. Health problems that are left unchecked can result in worsening of the condition, sometimes past the point at which curative treatments are available. Detection, early intervention, and prevention are the keys to maintaining a long and healthy life.”

While the uninsured are the most obviously affected, many others do not consider the downstream effects of poor access to healthcare. It can and does have devastating effects on an economy, Smith said, decreasing the healthy workforce in the community. It also results in overwhelming an already-stressed health care system.

The local physicians and nurses who see patients at St. Andrew’s Free Clinic have volunteered their time and expertise to help those who have nowhere else to go.

“We provide quality primary care services, as well as mental health services, free of charge to those without insurance,” the nurse said. “We have arrangements with King’s Daughters Medical Center to offer reasonably priced laboratory and imaging services when needed. When the need for a specialist arises, we do our best to refer within the community, and have had great support from local physicians in multiple specialties. Unfortunately, we cannot take care of acute injuries, emergencies or do onsite testing.”

Appointments can be made with the clinic by calling 601-990-2056. Operating hours are dependent upon the availability of volunteer medical professionals, but the clinic aims to be open at least one day per week, usually in the morning. Walk-ins are not accepted and no controlled substances or disability paperwork will be prescribed.

“We have two basic needs that are always in short supply — time and money,” Smith said, as well as a need for more professionals to volunteer.

“We would love to see more volunteers, especially nurses, to aid in taking care of these patients as the clinic grows. A commitment of as little as three hours per month would make a huge difference,” said Smith. “There are also financial realities that must be met to continue operating a free medical clinic. We encourage individuals, organizations, and churches to see this as a great opportunity to show financial support for a charity that makes a real and tangible difference in your community.”

Smith said the clinic is not really seeing as many patients as could and should be taking advantage of the services available. She hopes more people will learn of their services and that 10 years from now, the entire community and surrounding areas will be utilizing the clinic as an asset that serves them well.

“God has blessed all of us by showing us His unconditional love, compassion and provision when we need it most,” she said. “Let us do the same to our neighbors.”

To learn more about the clinic and the mission, visit Donations can also be made online, or mailed to St. Andrew’s Mission, P.O. Box 1407, McComb, MS 39649.