NEW ALBANY • Agape Health Services in New Albany is preparing to reopen June 13 after having to close for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The free clinic normally meets on the second Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., providing free health care and lab work to those without insurance. It also provides yearly flu shots, resources such as substance abuse rehab and counseling, diabetic education, diabetic testing supplies, and patient assistance programs with the major pharmaceutical manufacturers. It also provides spiritual support.
Agape Health Services closed due to concerns about the small size of the building and lack of personal protective equipment, said Executive Director Charlene Black. During that time, the Agape Board of Directors authorized refills for existing patients’ maintenance medicines such as for diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, etc.
“With us being closed, it really limited what we could do for the patients,” Black said. “(The authorization) didn’t get patients’ supplies or address acute issues that might have come up in the past few months. That’s been hard on our patients because if they had some complications, we couldn’t address it.”
The clinic kept its phone line open, which would forward to Black. Black said she tried to answer people who left messages, but said there were challenges reaching those who didn’t have voicemails or buy phone calls minute to minute. She kept the clinic’s Facebook page updated to inform patients, but many people were inquiring about medical issues they could not complete without seeing them, Black said.
As the state re-opens, Black said patients were anxious to be seen, with many reaching out to the clinic. She anticipates a lot of back lab work on patients, as well as checking cholesterol, diabetes, kidney function, liver function, etc., for patients.
Black said they are going to be mindful of how many volunteers and patients are in the clinic at a time. Rather than have patients wait inside the clinic, volunteer staff will assign patients numbers and ask them to wait in their vehicles or outside so the clinic is not exceeding CDC guidelines. Patients will be screened beforehand.
Agape Health Services typically sees 20 to 30 patients a month. Black anticipates an increased need for the free clinic during this time as economic problems related to the pandemic continue.
“I expect to see more because so many people have lost their jobs. I know just from managing the clinics at my day to day job that we’re seeing so many patients who have lost their insurance or job, so I’m expecting to see an increased need in the free clinic world for a while to come still,” Black said.
As a free clinic, Black said the main challenge with reopening is receiving enough PPE. While the community has reached out to offer supplies and money, the global shortage of PPE will make this an ongoing need. Black manages three other clinics and said it has been a day to day struggle getting PPE.
“It’s even harder for a free clinic with no real resources and no allocation from prior purchases with medical distribution companies for anything, so we’re solely relying on other people, clinics, healthcare providers, people who have purchased stuff online,” Black said. “We’re still trying to get some of those resources lined up ... that would help us stay open month to month in this new post-COVID-19 world.”
Agape Health Services is currently in need of contactless or tympanic thermometers, surgical or ear loop masks, N95 respirators, disinfectant sprays, disinfectant wipes, nitrile gloves of all sizes and hand sanitizer.
More volunteers are needed to help handle crowd flow and screen patients, Black said. She is looking for 10 to 12 volunteers. They need volunteers of all medical positions. They are seeking at least two volunteers who can speak Spanish to help assist the large number of Hispanic patients the clinic sees. Black said they also want more volunteers to help screen patients who may have symptoms that are part of ongoing chronic conditions but can be confused for coronavirus symptoms to ensure they are not excluding patients they can help.
“We’re available to everyone without insurance,” Black said. “We’re just there to be the hands and feet of Jesus and we don’t care about immigration status, anything like that. We’re just here to serve the medical needs of our community.”