This month, we’d like to highlight one of our partner clinics, the Free Clinic of Meridian. Located in eastern Mississippi, the Free Clinic of Meridian offers primary medical care for uninsured adults of East Mississippi and West Alabama. The services are completely free and are provided by volunteer physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, who, along with nurses and front office volunteers, work together to provide free high-quality healthcare.

We spoke to Stephanie Woodall, the Executive Director of the Free Clinic of Meridian.

Can you tell us a little bit about your clinic?

The “idea” for our clinic came from a group of dedicated people who recognized the need for a facility that could provide high-quality healthcare for uninsured, underserved people. Many people who did not have insurance simply did not go to the doctor or used the ER as their clinic, which actually increased costs for everyone. After two years of planning, the Free Clinic of Meridian officially opened in 2014. Over the past five years, we have received tremendous community support, especially from EC Healthnet’s Rural Residency program, local businesses and our two local hospitals. One rents their building to us for $1.00 a year. The other has paid for the lab work for all our patients.

What is your process for new patients?

Many patients who start with us have multiple chronic conditions and many have never had a permanent medical home. We like to meet with new patients every two weeks in order to get them stabilized, then most patients are scheduled for follow-up appointments every three to six months with the provider. As a healthcare professional, I know that untreated chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can lead to serious health conditions, and even death, if untreated.

How has the Covid pandemic affected the clinic?

Despite being closed for three months, we have had a huge jump in the number of patients we serve. In 2019, we had over 1,600 patient visits and surpassed that number by July of this year. With so many people out of work and losing their benefits, a clinic like ours is more important than ever. We do an annual survey with our patients and they tell us that if we didn’t exist they would simply never see a doctor.

How does your partnership with Rx Outreach help your clinic and patients?

Rx Outreach provides our patients with much-needed medications at discounted prices and the medication gets shipped directly to the patient’s home. Our patients are grateful for this service as many face financial struggles and cannot afford gas money to drive to the pharmacy monthly for refills. Our partnership with Rx Outreach is not only essential to our clinic but also a blessing to our patients.

How did you personally end up in your position?

I was an ICU nurse for eight years and started two years ago at the Free Clinic of Meridian as our nurse manager. In January, I was promoted to executive director. Little did I know how challenging this year would be!

And we still have two months left!

Can you tell us what keeps you motivated?

Honestly, the staff and volunteers at our clinic just keep going because we believe in our mission. Each time an obstacle would arise and we thought we were stuck, somehow an answer would appear. It is definitely a God thing! When you believe in something and see the impact on the community, you realize how blessed you are to work in a place like that.

What are the ways that other people can support you and your mission?

Many people adopt a patient. The cost is $10 a month, or $120 a year. We also have a list of supplies that people are welcome to donate We don’t charge people anything for their healthcare and all the money is raised through grants, donations, and our services are provided through our wonderful volunteers.

Stephanie, as you were speaking, I thought of a title for this piece “The Little Clinic That Could.” What do you think?

Yes, I think that describes us perfectly!

From left to right: Rosie Balderas (Medical Assistant), Stephanie Woodall, RN, BSN (Executive Director), Desiree Wilson (Office Supervisor)