High blood pressure. COPD. Diabetes. Influenza. People in need of routine medical care line up outside of the Rogers County Health Department on the second and fourth Thursday every month.
They arrive half an hour or more before the doors open to ensure that they are one of 25 patients who gets to meet with a doctor that night.
The Rogers County Free Medical Clinic serves county residents who otherwise would not have access to the basic medical coverage that many take for granted.
People on insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid, Soonercare, or people with access to the Veterans Affairs or Indian hospitals, are turned away to make room for people who do not have access to such safety nets.
As volunteer Clinic Receptionist Charlotte Pauley put it, “We help the people that fall between the cracks.”
The clinic is able to provide free medical care for general conditions like sore throats and minor injuries, as well as some preventatives, like a breast exam.
Common prescription medications are available for $4.
The Rogers County Free Medical Clinic is a non-profit, founded in 2004 by an organizing board made of nine members from First Presbyterian, First Christian and St. Cecilia Catholic Churches in Claremore.
“We researched a need in Rogers County and the need was great,” said Kimi Pranger, a board member and frequent clinic volunteer.
The organization’s mission is to provide free diagnosis, treatment and education to residents of Rogers County who have no medical insurance.
“We respect the dignity of each individual. We serve the young and the not so young. We respond to the changing health and wellness needs of the community,” the mission statement reads.
Most visitors come in with acute issues like asthma and diabetes.
They are typically referred by agencies in town or hear about the clinic by word of mouth. Some patients who went to the clinic for years but have sent gotten back on their feet have referred friends in need.
“We’re happy to be here, and we’re certainly serving a great need,” Pranger said.
Over the years, Pranger has seen more than 4,000 patients walk through the doors, and has soaked up many of their stories.
“Most people have jobs, but they can’t afford the additional cost of insurance,” she said.
Pauley said she enjoys volunteering most when she can help parents care for their small children.
There are six volunteer doctors who rotate, with at least two on staff any given night. Doctors meet with patients for as long as it takes to meet the patient’s need to the best of their ability. Three or four nurses also volunteer on clinic nights, some students, some full-time professionals and some retired.
“The people that volunteer are people that care,” Pauley said.
The doctors on hand last Thursday were Dr. Helen Franklin, who runs a family practice in Claremore, and Dr. Sumathy Vannarth, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Claremore Indian Hospital.
Franklin, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative said, “If we can cheaply provide people with medicine so they don’t have a heart attack or amputation, so they can still provide for their families and got to work, than we are ahead as a nation.”
“It’s cheaper as a nation to keep people employed,” Franklin said, explaining why she is happy to volunteer her time for this cause. “But primarily, it’s fun.”
“There is a need in the community and this is a great resource,” said Head Nurse Ellen Wolfe. “We’re not extravagant, but we provide basic medical care.”
Nursing student Elizabeth Steffens said, “I like knowing I’m helping people.”
“Healthcare is a passion,” said Volunteer Nurse Cara O'Neal. “The patients are always so grateful and appreciative.”
The health department allows the use of the building at no cost. They also gives some medical supplies.
“We really appreciate the health department for all the help,” Franklin said. “Our only cost is medicine.”
New and returning patients are asked to bring a list of any prescriptions they are currently taking. Patients are met on a first come, first served basis, between 6 and 8 p.m.
The clinic is constantly looking for more nurse and doctor volunteers and donations.
“It’s a great way for students to get extra experience,” Pranger said.
Doctors who would like to volunteer can contact Franklin at 918-728-4775. Nurses who would like to volunteer can do so by reaching out to Wolfe at 918-398-1058. And you don’t need a medical background to volunteer in other support positions.
Rogers County Free Clinic dates through January 2019, beginning at 6 p.m., and closed whenever Claremore schools are closed for inclement weather, are as follows:
*For legal reasons, the clinic does not prescribe narcotics, give disability evaluations, provide sports physicals, administer immunizations or grant workers compensation care.