St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic’s village

Diocesan ministry bringing aboard partners to offer a full complement of health services for East Tennesseans

By Emily Booker

It’s often said, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

But the need for a village doesn’t stop after childhood. Most everyone needs a village. And St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic is applying that belief to its approach in providing health care to its patients.

Nurse takes temperature standing over patient.

Lindsay Cannon, a University of Tennessee nursing student, takes vitals of a St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic patient at the Decatur clinic site in November. (Emily Booker)

SMLC’s mission is to improve the lives of the medically underserved in the rural areas of East Tennessee. The mobile clinic travels out to rural areas of the region to provide health services to those who need them.

Over time, getting to know their patients and learning their needs, the staff and volunteers understood the gaps that still existed, and started seeking partner organizations that could also come to the clinic sites and provide further services that the clinic could not.

“We want to offer a village of health care,” Martin Vargas, the clinic’s executive director, said.

Mr. Vargas said the clinic was working with health-care and service organizations to coordinate on-site services to patients at their clinic sites.

“With these partners, we’re offering not just broader but deeper care,” he said.

The partners may vary depending on the specific needs of the patients at the different clinic sites and the time of the year.

The goal is to increase access to the level and breadth of care available to St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic patients at the rural clinic sites.

For example, at its clinic site in Decatur in Meigs County on Nov. 2, the clinic had several partners available offering further services and resources, including Chattanooga-based hospital CHI Memorial.

  • Lions Clubs International from Fairfield Glade offered vision and hearing tests. For those who needed glasses or hearing aids, the Lions will help with follow-up care in accessing free or low-cost options.
  • Helping Mamas from Knoxville provided diapers, baby clothes, and post-partum items. The baby supply bank works with partner agencies to distribute items for babies and mothers, including new car seats and breast pumps.
  • CHI Memorial’s lung coach clinic offered lung cancer screenings for smokers or others who qualified (over 40 or current/former smokers). The low-dose CT scan captures an image of the chest cavity, so this screening is known to have identified a number of other health issues, such as gallstones or thyroid masses.
  • CHI Memorial’s mobile mammogram clinic offered mammograms for women who qualified.
  • CEMPA from Chattanooga offered HIV and hepatitis C testing. They also provided at-home test kits.

All the partners offered their services free of cost to SMLC patients as well as health information and follow-up instruction.

Four people standing around eye screening machine.

SMLC executive director Martin Vargas, left, is with Mary Green, Dave Sias, and Fred Mundt, who are members of the Fairfield Glade Lions Club, at the Decatur clinic site. The Lions Club is partnering with the Legacy Clinic to provide vision and hearing screenings for Legacy Clinic patients. (Emily Booker)

This is all in addition to the health services offered by the SMLC itself.

Also at the November Decatur clinic, SMLC began distribution of its Share the Warmth program, offering winter weather clothing and blankets to anyone who needed them. The Share the Warmth program will be available at clinic sites throughout December and January.

SMLC also often coordinates with local health departments in winter months to make seasonal vaccines available on site for patients.

The site itself, located at the Decatur United Methodist Church, was formed through a partnership of the church and clinic.

Years ago, the church had looked into starting a mobile clinic for Meigs County, but the steep start-up costs prevented it from moving forward. But then Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, the founding medical director of St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, called, looking for a location that might host the newly established SMLC. The church jumped at the chance to help, and to this day, several members of the congregation volunteer with the clinic.

As more partners coordinate with SMLC, patients will be able to gain access to a number of health resources they often cannot—either due to distance, cost, or awareness.

More care, prevention, and resources will lead to a healthier life. So, if it takes a village to care for one another, SMLC is going to build a village.

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