Free clinic gives care to those in need

EAST FREEDOM – There’s the usual things people come to a health clinic for, everything from sore throats to headaches.

But this is no typical clinic, and the stories one hears here are different.

They are about people like Brian Ford of Martinsburg, who took his last blood pressure pill the day he came in.

Then there’s Donald Claar of Lilly, who’d never been to a doctor in his life. He also has high blood pressure but wasn’t on any medication.

There’s Tim Stauffer of East Freedom. He’s a Mennonite, and his faith prevents him from having health insurance, but he too needs blood pressure medication.

None of these men had health insurance and might have been turned away from other clinics, but they were seen at this free clinic in East Freedom, given medication, no financial questions asked.

“This is not like most clinics,” said Claar, who’s 56. “I know if I’d let things go at my age, I probably could have stroked out at any time.”

The clinic that Claar, Ford, Stauffer and others have found is called “through inc.,” a nonprofit faith-based free clinic opened by a group of people from all walks of life in the former East Freedom Elementary School.

Started last January, the clinic has seen 100 people with a total of 200 office visits.

The clinic is helping people who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks, with no health insurance to get needed basic health care, said Dave Cadle, a Williamsburg retired banker who is the group’s CEO.

The clinic is also saving the local hospital money by using preventative care, he said. Without the clinic, these same people would most likely end up in the emergency room, Cadle said.

“Whether it’s a cold or bronchitis, isn’t that a better idea?” he said. “The bottom line is that this is God’s people doing God’s work.”

Partnered with Nason Hospital in Roaring Spring, Mattie Verbit, a nurse practitioner from the hospital, is at the clinic every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. seeing patients.

A nurse practitioner can do many things a doctor can do, including write prescriptions. The clinic also has a registered nurse, Wendy Belinda, as director. In addition, Dr. Douglas Stern, a doctor in the emergency department at UPMC Bedford Memorial Hospital, reviews the clinic’s charts.

Verbit said some of the patients she sees have never seen a doctor, like Claar, and others haven’t seen one since childhood. The main issue for all is that they don’t have health insurance.

“For some people, they’re so grateful. This is so life-changing because, not only does it meet their physical needs, but it connects them with other resources,” she said.

That is the goal of through inc., which isn’t just a health clinic, although that’s a big part of the group’s mission, as Ford discovered. Like many people today, he found himself without health insurance when he switched jobs.

A youth minister for 18 years, Ford, who’s 43, came to this area and started working in sales, but he had to wait 90 days before he qualified for his new company’s health insurance. He needed his blood pressure medicine right away, especially because he’s in a stressful situation, with moving to a new area and starting a different job. Doctors have told him stress can be factor in raising blood pressure, he said.

“The health care issue is not a ‘poor people’ issue. It’s an ‘everyone’ issue,” he said.

Now, Ford plans to return to through inc., not to go to the clinic again, because he will soon have health insurance, but because he has joined the New Life Alliance Church, which is the religious group that started the clinic.

Pastor Ed Jelliff of New Life Alliance actually got the idea for through inc. years ago, when he was challenged by a teacher to envision his ministry.

Fast forward to his post-college years, when he and his New Life Alliance congregation spent years trying to find a permanent home, traveling back and forth from the Roaring Spring YMCA on Sundays to the Freedom Township Fire Hall on Friday mornings.

This is where the church’s faith literally started to shine “through.” As a nurse, Belinda came to Jelliff in 2008 and said she felt the area had a huge problem with people needing medical care. He agreed, and the two worked up a plan for a nonprofit, faith-based group that would attack the problem on several fronts, and through inc. was born.

The name “through” comes from “the desire to help people work through things in life, not to stay in things that then become traps,” Jelliff said. The two recruited others to their effort, including the Rev. Tim Harrison, now associate pastor of Altoona Alliance Church in Altoona. Together, they pooled their resources and incorporated their group.

The big boost came when they discovered the former East Freedom Elementary School was up for sale, but they had one problem: They only had $90 in their account, and the school district wanted $250,000 for the building. They couldn’t get any bank to lend them money.

Several members of the congregation mortgaged their homes, which convinced a bank to loan them the rest of the money, Jelliff said. Meanwhile, North-

western Human Services, a school for autistic children, signed on to rent space in part of the building, which eventually brought in revenue and helped pay off the mortgages.

“But for three years, those individuals stood in the gap so that we could do this,” Jelliff said.

The building houses the clinic, a coffee shop, a faith-based drug and alcohol support group, and a Keystone Kupboard food pantry, plus free psychological counseling offered by Jelliff’s daughter, Bethany Jones.

She is certified by the National Board of Certified Counselors and has a master’s degree in community counseling.

She is working toward certification in faith-based counseling.

She has already counseled several teens and adults for depression and anxiety. Many of the people were referred from the health clinic, she said. When they come to the clinic,

people aren’t just rushed through.

They’re asked how they’re doing and if they have anything other than health issues they’d like to discuss, she said.

“We realize there may be a little more going on than just what they came for sometimes,” she said. “We know that medical issues can often be caused by unresolved emotional issues.”

For more information about the clinic or to schedule an appointment, call 317-5231.

The group is also accepting donations to its Keystone Kupboard food pantry, and donations of shampoo, conditioner, soap and body wash may be dropped off at the building at 2879 Everett Road.