June 1, 2014

Health clinic volunteers offer medical help in poultry barn

Once a month, a steady stream of uninsured folks comes to a free health clinic in an old south Modesto poultry barn inside the sprawling Modesto Flea Market. Everything’s paid for by private donations, and none of the clinic’s health care providers gets compensated.

Chicken coops get moved out of an old south Modesto poultry barn once a month so medical volunteers can turn the place into a free health clinic.

A steady stream of uninsured folks drops in, seeking help for ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes and rashes.

Sunday’s crowd was typical: a culturally diverse mix of families and adults who don’t have regular access to medical care.

“They’ve come in with heart attacks and bullet wounds,” said Mailyng Blair, 23, an emergency medical technician who has been volunteering at the clinic for almost a year. She recalled one guy who arrived with “a big ol’ swollen wrist,” claiming he simply had hurt his hand.

The man had been shot, and clinic workers did their best to treat his wound until an ambulance arrived. Their quick actions may have saved the man’s hand.

“It feels really rewarding helping those who don’t have a doctor,” said Blair, who lives in Modesto and speaks English and Vietnamese.

Most visitors to the clinic, which is inside the sprawling Modesto Flea Market on Seventh Street, are Latino, but a multitude of languages are spoken there.

Volunteer Jasleen Mann of Modesto helped translate for Punjabi and Hindi speakers Sunday as she trained on how to test for blood sugar levels.

“I’ve learned so much here that I wouldn’t learn at school,” assured Mann, 21, who is working toward a biology degree at UC Merced and plans to pursue a medical career. “I like how we’re not taking money from the community at this clinic. We’re just here to help them.”

Patients aren’t charged a penny for their visits. They’re also provided access to low-cost prescriptions from local pharmacies, along with deeply discounted medical lab work from Pathology Inc. and X-rays from Precision Imaging.

Everything’s paid for by private donations, and none of the clinic’s health care providers gets compensated.

“We’ll take in anybody. It doesn’t matter whether they’re documented or undocumented,” said Frank Johnson, who started offering free health care clinics three years ago at the NAACP’s office in Modesto. He is president of the association’s Stanislaus County branch. “I refuse to take grants (to finance the clinic). Grants dictate how you have to operate, and they put restrictions on what you can do.”

Rather than getting bogged down with paperwork and bureaucracy, Johnson said, his Interventional Health Administrative Service focuses on people’s medical needs. That includes providing free once-a-week clinics at the NAACP office and once-a-month clinics at the Modesto Flea Market and Ceres Unified School District office.

Nurse practitioner Daniel Lucky is a key part of the operation. He volunteers his medical expertise at those clinics and lines up volunteers from Abrams College, a vocational training program in Modesto that offers assorted medical certification programs.

“We take care of about 250 families at our little (NAACP) clinic,” said Lucky, who shuffled between patients at the flea market. “What we’re doing here is needed. There are so many folks out there who fall through gaps because they make too much to get subsidized health care but not enough to afford it.”

Lucky can prescribe medications to treat many of the ailments he encounters at the clinics, but he does not provide anyone narcotics. He said he consults with a physician adviser by phone when necessary, and when problems are beyond his skill level, he refers patients to those who can help.

Most of the people who visit the clinics, however, have relatively common issues.

“We see a lot of people who have diabetes and high blood pressure,” explained Melanie Smith, 38, of Modesto. She is an emergency medical technician who has been volunteering at the clinics for about six months.

Larry Gremp is confident the medical volunteers are providing a badly needed community service. He owns the Modesto Flea Market, and he convinced Johnson’s group to host clinics there the first Sunday of each month.

“It’s a fabulous fit for us,” said Gremp, who estimated about 5,000 people visit his outdoor market every Sunday. “We wanted a way to give back to our community so we could help the less fortunate families who come here.”

Gremp gives the clinic access to a 75-year-old poultry barn that is near the market’s entrance. “Our building is old, but it’s very clean,” he assured.

The bird cages get rearranged and covered to create makeshift private rooms for consultations and basic examinations. Donated portable massage tables are used for exams, and the staff makes do with beat-up chairs.

Johnson said he is in the process of getting IRS approval to become an official nonprofit agency, so donations to the clinic are not tax-deductible.

Items on the clinic’s wish list include: a medical scale that measures height and weight, trash cans with lids that open with the press of a foot, a couple of rolling stools, folding tables, office supplies, unopened boxes of gloves and a real medical exam table.

More volunteers with medical training also are sought, particularly nurse practitioners and physicians.

The weekly clinic in Modesto is by appointment only; call (209) 544-2810 for more information.

Walk-in patients can visit the clinic from 1 to 4 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at the Ceres school district office, 2503 Lawrence St.

Walk-in patients also can visit the clinic from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. on the first Sunday of every month at the Modesto Flea Market, 1107 S. Seventh St.

To donate or volunteer, contact Johnson at (209) 549-2810 or FrankJ77@juno.com.

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