Since January, patients seeking primary care and ear, nose and throat care from the Westside Free Medical Clinic have visited McDonald Center at St. John Center, a move from Camp Aldersgate that had housed the clinic for 36 years.
“We have always wanted to have our own space. We’ve had a very good relationship,” with Camp Aldersgate, owned and operated by the Women's Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, said Westside director Karen DiPippa. “But their programs have increased and we have worked to share space at times during their summer camp when they needed use of that building. All of our files were there so we had a lot of back and forth.”
The McDonald Center, 2415 N. Tyler Street, houses administrative offices for Catholic Charities of Arkansas, which Westside Free Medical Clinic operates under.
DiPippa said the clinic’s lease expired in December and the people of Camp Aldersgate were “very, very helpful to us” through the years and even assisted with the move.
“We wanted to make sure where we moved, that it was a comfortable place, that it was a secure and safe place, that there was ample parking and it was accessible,” along with more handicapped parking, she said.
Other places had been looked at, including Christ the King Church in Little Rock and other buildings at St. John Center.
It was a natural move for the clinic, as other medical services have already been offered at McDonald Center. Operating since 1970, it is the oldest free clinic in Arkansas. Throughout the years, the clinic has expanded services, including adding bilingual professionals and interpreters to serve Spanish-speaking clients in 2002.
Today, the clinic, which has medical and non-medical volunteers, offers primary care, diabetic eye exams and ear, nose and throat, dermatology, pharmacy and chiropractic services. Scheduled appointments for primary care services are offered weekly for people 18 and older who cannot afford health care. Some specialty clinics, such as ENT, dermatology and chiropractic, are offered monthly by appointment. The clinic also includes outside referrals to behavioral health and dental services, DiPippa said.
In the last fiscal year, from July 2016 to June 2017, the clinic saw 2,036 patients, with 6,073 total services provided, she said. Primary care and ENT services were the only clinics housed at Camp Aldersgate.
The first clinic at the new location was held Jan. 17 and DiPippa said the response was positive.
“Patients and volunteers just think it’s wonderful,” with comments like, ‘This is so nice, thank you.’ ‘Thank you for moving.’ That was the thing I did not expect. I thought it’d be a hardship for people to find a new location,” she said.
Camp Aldersgate is the only non-profit in the state serving youth, senior citizens and children with disabilities in a camp setting, according to campaldersgate.net. Catholic Charities rented the Matkin building, using four rooms specifically, which included one large room, for its weekly evening clinic.
“The care team is truly doing the Lord’s work to assist those who are in need of health care, chronic disease management and incidentals but may be under insured or lack the resources to provide the critical care to their families,” Sonya Murphy, CEO of Camp Aldersgate, said in an email about Westside. “… We wish the clinic continued success in their new home at the diocese and further aligning with the Catholic Church’s teaching of mercy and healing.”
Kate Ross, a registered dietician who has volunteered as a Spanish interpreter for Westside, said she is now able to give more private, formal evaluations.
“It elevates the level of care for the patients,” Ross said of the new space.
Because all patient charts will be housed at McDonald Center, it allows for easier patient care and having a kitchen will allow for healthy meal prep and workshops for diabetic patients.
The savings on rent will also mean more money toward clinic operations.
“It’s a more sterile environment for the patients. They have more privacy for screening, we have individual screening rooms that we didn’t have before … We have access to a phone. The privacy is a huge plus,” DiPippa said. “(Previously) screening was in an open room, but we did have screens. It (McDonald Center) is more clinic-like … It’s also a trusted location and that’s really key with the demographics we’re dealing with.”
For more information or to make an appointment, visit dolr.org/catholic-charities/westside-medical-clinic or call Karen DiPippa (English) at (501) 664-0340, ext. 356 or Flor M. Lopez (Spanish) at (501) 664-0340, ext. 335.
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