GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – It’s nothing fancy on the outside, the site of an old church on Houston Street in Green Cove Srpings. But inside, it’s what some call the answer to prayer.
It’s called The Way Free Medical Clinic, and the people who work there — and those who go there — say it’s showing thousands of underserved people in Clay County the way to good health.
“One out of every seven residents in Clay County are eligible, and they need it,” said The Way Executive Director Don Fann.
Fann said The Way provides thousands of treatments each year to uninsured, low-income residents in the county and relies fully on donated funds.
“In Clay County, we are the only free medical clinic,” Fann said. “We are the only one that does not charge anyone for anything. We raise 100% of the money that it takes to do that.”
Fann said The Way is operated by a team of dedicated community-minded volunteers, which includes doctors, nurses and other medical experts. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the clinic had about 125 volunteers. It runs with a staff of 12 who support those donating their time.
“God gifted me with this talent, and it’s up to me to use it,” said licensed practical nurse Geri Leatherbury. “And I just really like helping people, and I don’t need to work, so now it’s time to give back.”
Physicians like Dr. Wen Wu, a resident with Ascension St. Vincent’s, spend hours at The Way.
“It is very sad to see patients who come here and needing medication, and they’ve never been seen by a doctor for many, many years until they come here,” Wu said. “To me, this is a very rewarding experience, knowing that I’m actually helping these patients who are very in need of medical care. To me, this is huge, and that’s why I love doing this.”
News4JAX was there as Wu treated a Clay County woman who’s been coming to The Way for 14 years. During that time, all three of Nati Hernandez’s children have been born with the help of the doctors and nurses at the clinic, including her daughter who was diagnosed with a rare condition. That child is on Medicare, but Hernandez is not.
Hernandez spoke with News4JAX through the help of an interpreter.
“For me, this is all I have here, The Way Clinic,” Hernandez said.
When asked where she would go if she didn’t know about The Way, Hernandez said: “It would be so difficult because there are not much places that take care of people without insurance.”
Registered nurse Maribel Pumarejo is a certified diabetes educator and translates for Spanish-speaking patients while helping those with diabetes who cannot afford not to get the care. Pumarejo says diabetes can be deadly.
“It’s a chronic condition, but it could be controlled given the right information and education that they need, so we’re here to support them,” Pumarejo said.
Those who give their time at the clinic say this free clinic isn’t what some would expect.
“Many of our staff members are part of the community. They know the patients. They know their families. Everyone is very interconnected here,” said The Way medical director Dr. Harry Madhanagopal.
Madhanagopal is a former Navy physician who works at Ascension St. Vincent’s. He says The Way is a remarkably warm and inviting environment where patients are treated with dignity.
“It does feel like, being back in the Navy because, when you’re deployed, you kind of have to be very creative about how you take care of people,” Madhanagopal said.
Sometimes that creativity comes into play due to limited resources just means finding a specialist.
“If we can’t take care of it here, at least kind of get the patient moving in the right direction or at least try to connect with any specialists in the area who can at least pick up the baton and kind of continue the care for that patient, as well, too,” Madhanagopal said.
Wu agrees, saying: “I want to get the word out to the community and let them know if you are uninsured, if you do not have adequate health care and are needing to see somebody, The Way clinic is here for you. We are always here, and we want to do the best for you.”
Fann says The Way was just selected as the sole site for the federal Navigator program in Clay County for the Affordable Care Act insurance policies and is now an enrollment center.
He ways the clinic is in need of volunteers and sponsors. lf you’re interested in supporting The Way, go to thewayclinic.org.