Anita is 44 years old and lives in Ashley. She’d rather not publicize her last name, but she’s not at all shy about explaining what the Mountaintop Free Medical Clinic means for her.
“I have a life-threatening condition, COPD,” she said. “These people are wonderful.”
At the weekly clinic, which opens at 6:30 on Monday evenings at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Wright Township — if a doctor is available — Anita can get a check-up as well as inhalers and medicines such as Advair or Spiriva to ease the symptoms of her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
With no income and no insurance, she said she sees no other option for health care.
“But you should be able to get insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” nurse manager Alice Doxsey told her gently.
“I’ve called for medical assistance,” Anita said, indicating she hasn’t succeeded in getting it.
“That’s why I wish we could get some social workers to volunteer here, to help people fill out forms and apply for what’s available,” church pastor the Rev. Michele Kaufman said, as about a dozen people filtered into the clinic’s waiting room.
The clinic opened in the late 1980s and has served people in need ever since. Patients don’t have to live in the Mountain Top area, Kaufman said. “We’re open to everyone.”
But the clinic is facing a critical need for doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners to volunteer a few hours a month, Doxsey said.
Two weeks ago, no doctor was available, and people had to be turned away. “That usually means we have double the patients the next week,” Doxsey said, explaining the usual caseload can be anywhere from six to 18 patients. Most of them arrive promptly at 6:30, and “we stay until the last one is seen.”
Knowing that you’re helping people makes the work rewarding, Dr. Edward Stachowiak said, taking a moment between talking to pharmacy students about medications and seeing the next patient.
“People think of Mountain Top as an affluent community,” said the doctor, whose practice is in White Haven. “But there are cracks and crevices, and people fall through them.”
While Stachowiak volunteered at the clinic last week, other physicians who volunteer are Dr. Anthony Aquilina and Dr. Gregory Fino.
The Mountaintop Free Medical Clinic really could use at least twice as many, Doxsey said, so each doctor’s turn would come up only once every 4 to 6 weeks.
On a recent evening, several Wilkes University students pitched in to help, with pharmacy students Holland Kunkel, Gregory Hood and Nina Sorbelli helping to dispense asthma meds while nursing student Ryan Culverson interviewed patients and recorded temperatures and blood pressure.
Many of the patients have asthma or other respiratory difficulties, said Doxsey, who helped establish the clinic.
Some need a routine physical so they can apply for a driver’s license permit. Some might bring a child who had an earache or other ailment that prevents the youngster from returning to day care without a doctor’s note.
The clinic isn’t equipped to take care of chronic conditions or to do lab work, but health-care professionals there do make referrals, write prescriptions and dispense basic antibiotics and asthma medications.
“If you need pain medication,” she added, “the strongest thing we have is ibuprofen.”