For more than 50 years, Catholic Charities of Arkansas has worked with volunteer medical providers to offer free health care to central Arkansans.
With a new name, plans are underway to recruit, modernize and grow to better fulfill its aim of helping those in need.
The Catholic Charities Medical Clinic, formerly the Westside Free Medical Clinic, at the St. John Center in Little Rock, serves those without means to pay for health care and medicine, said Janice Bohac, who was hired as director of the clinic in August.
She replaces Karen DiPippa, who retired in July after 33 years as director.
“Our mission of providing free charitable primary care medicine and charitable pharmacy to those patients will remain the same that we've always had since we started Feb. 24, 1971,” she said. “We're focusing on providing free health care to those in need, who have no means of health insurance and cannot afford prescriptions. Some of these people have no money. They can't afford $10 for a clinic visit or a prescription.”
Since assuming leadership, Bohac’s charge has been helping the clinic reemerge after the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, it means the clinic will solely focus on primary care and the pharmacy. Patient visits are by appointment only on Wednesday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. The clinic is working with other health care organizations, including CHI St. Vincent and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, both in Little Rock, for referrals to specialists.
“Our biggest goal right now is to grow our volunteer base to advance our mission in philanthropy in terms of giving and serving the patients we see,” she said.
The clinic is currently staffed by 13 physicians, nurses, pharmacists and Spanish-speaking interpreters who provide their time and services for free, but Bohac, a member of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton, has set a goal of increasing volunteer medical staff to meet the demands of patients. The clinic is also updating its electronic medical and pharmacy records systems to better engage and seamlessly share information with other providers and pharmacies to improve the continuum of care.
“If we can build our base of volunteers, we can expand our model that we currently have in place, and then we can add more patients and more services,” she said.
Dennis Lee, Diocese of Little Rock’s chancellor for administrative affairs, said the clinic’s name change was made to better reflect its mission under Catholic Charities of Arkansas.
“It was called the Westside Free Medical Clinic because, when it was founded, it was based out on the west side of Little Rock. When the clinic’s physical facilities were moved here to Catholic Charities of Arkansas the name just didn't fit anymore, and it was time to rename it,” Lee said. “Sometimes when talking to people when I’d say Westside Free Medical Clinic, they had no idea it was a ministry of the Catholic Church in Arkansas. The clinic is open to people — medical staff and patients — of all faiths, but the name change is on task for what we do and for people to identify what we're doing as part of Catholic Charities.”
Bohac said medical professionals volunteering three hours a week can make a major impact in the lives of people who can’t get medical care anywhere else.
“There are so many countless volunteers over the last 50 years who have given their time, including some who have been volunteering for 30 years,” Bohac said. “It's the passion of these volunteers who make our clinic and our ministry possible. If there's a doctor, nurse, pharmacist out there who's been discerning about giving their time to a great cause, we’d love to speak with them. It doesn't have to be a huge commitment. I'm hoping that that passion is cultivated in our message for others to want to give and to support what we've done over the last 50 years and keep it going 50 more years.”
For more information, to volunteer or schedule an appointment, call the Catholic Charities Medical Clinic at (501) 664-0340.
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