Ala clinic treats people on their word, for free

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DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — In an era when agencies fight for dwindling government grant money, Dothan's Samaritan Clinic hasn't even sought any.

At a time of smothering paperwork that seems to force the verification of everything in triplicate, Samaritan Clinic accepts patients on their word alone.

Its mobilization and organization plan flies in the face of conventional wisdom, yet Samaritan Clinic's reliance on the kindness of private citizens has resulted in a clinic with 12 equipped examination rooms to treat medical needs of those who have no health insurance.

"Things just started snowballing with people wanting to help," said Dwight Deal, director of the Samaritan Clinic and pastor of Harbor Church in downtown Dothan.

Samaritan Clinic is a free health and eye clinic for the homeless and people without health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Currently, MDs, nurses and other medical professionals volunteer their time to see patients Thursdays from 5 until 7 p.m. at the Love In Action Compassion Center, behind Dakota Coffee House.

Deal — who has a background in nursing — said helping meet the medical needs of local people has been a passion for a long time.

"We tend to want to send missionaries to other countries to deal with their health problems," Deal said. "And that's not a bad thing, but I realized there were people in my own ZIP code that had problems that needed to be dealt with."

Deal directs the clinic's weekly operations and a board oversees the overall ministry. Deal said the clinic has applied for official non-profit status.

Deal said he enjoys the freedom the clinic has by not applying for or accepting government grants.

"I believe we, as citizens, have to step up and do something to help those in need, because we, for too long, have depended on the government. Just my opinion," Deal said.

Residents who seek medical treatment each Thursday only have to tell volunteers they have no insurance.

"We sign them in and take their word," Deal said.

Patients receive general medical care each week. An MD, nurse practitioner and/or nurses, optometrist and pharmacist are on hand each week. A podiatrist is on hand twice per month and some specialists are available by appointment. Deal said three dentists are expected to start providing regular services soon. All of them work on a volunteer basis.

Deal said he hopes the clinic can expand its hours, adding that he would like to secure an arrangement with students from Dothan's Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine to provide regular rotations at the clinic in the future.

Deal said the clinic's greatest need is funds for equipment to expand services and to help patients with prescription needs.

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Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com

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