Good News Clinics in Gainesville has become a rock in recent days for Pam Cofer.
Already struggling from failing eyesight, the Flowery Branch woman had to undergo emergency open-heart surgery in June.
Adding to her troubles: no insurance. She earns too much disability income to qualify for Medicaid, a joint federal-state program that helps with medical costs for some low-income people.
The free health care, including medicines, offered at the clinics at 810 Pine St. “has been a blessing to me,” Cofer said.
“It’s a godsend they’ve put this place here,” added her sister, Christan Cofer, accompanying her sister to an appointment last week.
The Christian-based Good News Clinics holds its 25th anniversary dinner Thursday. It opened in 1992 with a small group of doctors and clergy “concerned about the lack of access to medical care for the indigent and low-income,” according to the center’s written history.
The first patient visits took place in two rooms at the Good News at Noon homeless shelter off Davis Street.
Today, the center, not affiliated with Good News at Noon, serves 3,500-4,000 people annually, with a roster of doctors providing voluntary services.
With an annual budget of $1.4 million, Good News Clinics officials say it provides about $21.8 million in health care services.
“I’ve done a lot of medical mission trips, but I find that I can do a medical mission trip here in the office,” executive director Allison Borchert said.
The clinics have income requirements, such as a monthly income maximum at $3,075 for a family of four and $1,508 for a single person. And patients must be Hall County residents.
“We treat everybody with respect and dignity,” Borchert said. “People who come through our doors may be out of prison or have had hard knocks in life. Just to be treated with respect and dignity and have someone listen to them and care about their story is huge.”
She said the clinics are “doing collaborations with schools in the area to assist with more than their medical needs.”
In January, Brenau University started a free student-run physical therapy clinic as a partnership with Good News Clinics.
Mary Thigpen, associate professor of physical therapy at Brenau and faculty adviser, has said “we’re trying to teach them not just patient care, but leadership, altruism and how to make relationships. The goals were beyond letting you practice your skills. Part of our code of ethics is to help the community.”
The clinics have taken some big steps over the years. In 1994, money was raised to renovate a storage building to provide three exams rooms. The Green Warren Dental Clinic was added in 1997.
Needing additional room, Good News Clinics moved to the Pine Street location in 2005.
The last physical expansion took place in 2013, with a 2,000-square-foot addition featuring the patient education room, counseling offices, Health Access Initiative and administrative offices.
The clinics’ January 2012 merger with Health Access Initiative made the organization the largest free medical clinic in the state.
The initiative, which gives Good News patients access to free care through 343 volunteer specialists, resulted in more than 4,000 appointments in 2016 — an estimated $4 million in donated services, surgeries, imaging and appointments.
Another huge endeavor at the clinics is its pharmacy, where patients are getting medicines for common health problems to ones that involve serious and expensive-to-treat conditions, such as hepatitis C.
Altruism is one thing, but overall, the “financial piece is ... we are helping the cost of health care stay down,” said Liz Coates, the clinics’ community engagement director.
“It’s been a tumultuous time. Everybody is worried about health care costs — that is the topic that’s out there in politics right now,” she said. “And that’s something we’ve naturally been doing and are continuing to do.”
The clinics are, in effect, helping many patients who would otherwise be served in emergency rooms and hospital rooms.
For many people, “we’re the last stop,” Coates said.