St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic expands to Crossville

St. Alphonsus Parish to host mobile medical van each month

By Gabrielle Nolan

St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic continues to expand its reach with the goal of providing holistic health care to the rural uninsured of East Tennessee.

On April 23, the mobile medical clinic opened its doors for the first time in Crossville, with a new site at St. Alphonsus Church located at 151 St. Alphonsus Way.

Martin Vargas, executive director of the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, announces to the media and people on hand at St. Alphonsus Church in Crossville that St. Alphonsus is the clinic’s newest location to serve patients in need. The mobile clinic is parked in the background. (Photo Gabrielle Nolan)

The clinic will visit the St. Alphonsus location in Cumberland Co. on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Crab Orchard visits (also in Cumberland County) will continue on the second Tuesday of each month. The clinic also visits Athens in McMinn County, Decatur in Meigs County, Gatlinburg in Sevier County, Knoxville in Knox County, Rutledge and Washburn in Grainger County, and Helenwood in Scott County.

The clinic’s executive director, Martin Vargas, gave opening remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and St. Alphonsus pastor Father Mark Schuster led an opening prayer. Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, who is a physician, serves as the clinic’s medical director.

Mr. Vargas commented on the partnership between the medical clinic and St. Alphonsus Community Services (SACS), which provides financial assistance and food to people in need.

SACS, which is a ministry of St. Alphonsus Parish, operates a food pantry three days a week, and residents of Cumberland Co. can, after verification, receive assistance with rent, electricity, gas, and water bills. No religious association is needed to receive help.

“So, you have the healing ministry of Jesus. You have the healing ministry of food, providing the loaves and breads that feed the people, provide them housing; and the spiritual needs all here in one place, and the community,” Mr. Vargas said.

Mr. Vargas mentioned that another benefit of the St. Alphonsus location is the large parking lot, which allows other agencies to set up alongside the clinic van.

“Today in the parking lot we have the mobile career bus; you can go on there and get yourself a job,” he said. “They’ll do a resume; they have computers right on board. So, if you’re looking for work, you can find that assistance. We have CHI Memorial (hospital), one of our local partners out of Chattanooga has come up here. They have a full CAT scan machine on their clinic, and they can treat your needs if you need that type of scan. If you need vision or hearing, we have the Lions here today. So that health-care village is here at Crossville … to meet your healing needs, your employment needs, SACS with your other physical needs, and then the local church for your healing needs or spiritual needs.”

Mr. Vargas said that “the need is tremendous” in Crossville.

Since 2014, the mobile clinic has been visiting Cumberland County in Crab Orchard, but data showed that a second location was necessary.

“We looked at our patient numbers and realized that 51 percent of our patients live in Crossville that attend the Crab Orchard clinic,” Mr. Vargas shared. “So, it was a natural extension from a geography standpoint, and there were two other things that really drove us to come to this location. One is patient need.”

One day while at the clinic in Crab Orchard, Mr. Vargas noticed a patient arriving from a bus. Unaware of the bus from Crossville to Crab Orchard, Mr. Vargas learned the route cost $5 each way for the patient. However, Mr. Vargas was informed that taking the bus locally in Crossville would cost the patient only $1 each way.

“Right then and there I knew we needed to come to Crossville because it’s so much more convenient for some of our patients, saves them money, and that difference in $8 makes a difference, so that was huge,” he said.

The other driver to setting up a clinic site at St. Alphonsus Church was the opportunity to partner with SACS.

“They provide not only food assistance but shelter assistance, automobile repair assistance, and that’s here on the same day we’re here,” Mr. Vargas said. “So, one stop, you can get your physical needs, your healing needs met; you can get your physical needs for sustenance met; and the new church here at St. Alphonsus opened up this beauti ful parish hall where we can do our activities, and you can get your spiritual needs met. It’s a trifecta.”

With a new clinic site comes a handful of local volunteers, which are needed to keep the mission going.

“St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic is from the community, of the community. We don’t come from outside, we come from within,” Mr. Vargas stated. “We have tremendous support at this church and great volunteers serving the local need.”

The team of professionals and volunteers also includes students from local universities who are gaining hands-on experience for their degrees, two of whom were present for the new clinic site.

MaeMae Whitmire, a senior in nursing at the University of Tennessee, has volunteered with St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic for two years.

“It’s been great. I got to see a lot” she said. “I’ve learned a lot, and it’s just been a great opportunity to help out and help those people in need.”

Hannah Fugate, a junior in nursing at Lincoln Memorial University, has volunteered with the clinic for three months.

St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic staff and volunteers are shown with the mobile clinic at St. Alphonsus. (Photo Gabrielle Nolan)

“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “Everybody is friendly and helpful, and they have a desire to help people in need. And as a student, you get experience with a lot of older nurses.”

David Ligon, a volunteer who serves as the current president of the clinic’s advisory board, was present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“We had a board meeting last week, and we were reviewing things,” he shared. “Since the time that I’ve been a part of the board, we’ve grown our clinic size by 80 percent. That’s unbelievable. I came in year five of the clinic; we’re now through year 10, which is amazing.”

“We’re obviously all rural counties outside of Knoxville,” Mr. Ligon continued. “It’s just a tremendous reach. And I love going to the meetings. I love hearing the stories of the impact. Sister Mary Lisa, she always does a wonderful job giving examples of a patient, and you hear about those who are graduating on and not needing the care anymore because whether [they have] gotten jobs or gotten insurance.”

One such patient is Renee Muller, a parishioner at St. Alphonsus.

Ms. Muller first came to St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic in the fall of 2017.

“It’s been life-saving for me,” she said. “I didn’t have any insurance, and I didn’t have any income or anything, and they were able to help me. And so, I was able to get a hip replacement and two carpal tunnel surgeries from them, and it didn’t cost me anything because it was based on income, and it was all done through Knoxville, the KAPA program.”

KAPA is the Knoxville Area Project Access, which provides access to health care for low-income uninsured individuals.

In addition, Ms. Muller was visiting the mobile clinic last summer in Crab Orchard when the staff encouraged her to work with the MaryEllen Locher Breast Cancer Center mobile clinic that was accompanying them on site. The MaryEllen Locher Breast Cancer Center mobile clinic is affiliated with CHI Memorial.

“I attended that, and I had a mammogram,” she said. “And of course there was a problem with the results, so they were concerned.”

While Ms. Muller was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was thankful for St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic encouraging her to have a mammogram earlier in the year. If she had waited, the cancer could have progressed to a further stage.

Now that she is 65 years old, Ms. Muller can rely on Medicare for insurance.

“Sister Celeste [Mary Poche, RSM, clinic assistant] … now that I’m turning 65, she knows I’m switching over to Medicare and all that. She’s like, we’ll work with you until you have your primary all set up. So that’s why I even came today to get actually a liver testing. … They’re very kind about things and work so good with you,” she shared.

Ms. Muller encourages those without insurance to seek out the mobile medical clinic.

“You can’t be afraid,” she said. “I was afraid to come. I didn’t really go to a doctor for a long time, and I knew I had an issue with my hip. … They’re so professional here.”

In addition to the new clinic site in Crossville, St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic has much to look forward to in the coming years.

“St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, through the support of the St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation, generous donors, and the support of the leadership of the Diocese of Knoxville, including the archbishop, have signed a contract that will enable us to buy a new mobile clinic,” Mr. Vargas shared.

“The estimated delivery date of that is October of 2025. It is a $700,000 investment to provide a replacement clinic and take us into our next 10 years,” he added. “Our current clinic has served us for 10 years, a boatload of miles, and so many patients. Absolutely amazing. So grateful for all the support of our donors, the foundation, the Diocese of Knoxville, to enable a new clinic. We’re very excited to have that opportunity to keep extending the healing ministry of Jesus Christ for the next 10 years with the purchase of a new vehicle.”

For more information on St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, visit

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