Being a ?good shepherd' for the uninsured

By Ed Brock

Dr. Thomas Kelley has mixed feelings about receiving accolades for his work with the Good Shepherd Clinic that he helped found in Morrow to offer free healthcare for the uninsured.

On Oct. 19 Kelley will receive the Georgia Cares Award for physicians from the Georgia Partnership for Caring Foundation, Inc.

"I'm very proud of what we accomplish at the Good Shepherd Clinic," Kelley said, adding that he doesn't want people to think he started the clinic for his own recognition. "I'm glad it will produce more attention for the work we've been doing. I'm really accepting on behalf of literally hundreds of people."

Originally from Sandy Springs, 39-year-old Kelley has been practicing medicine for 10 years. Now a resident of McDonough, about four years ago Kelley was living in Jonesboro and was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Morrow when he had the idea for the clinic.

"I just wanted to do volunteer work and found that there were no clinics in our area that treated the uninsured," Kelley said.

Previously Kelley had volunteered for three years at a similar clinic operated by the Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta. Through a patient Kelley learned that the Rev. Jimmy Lewis at the First Baptist Church of Morrow had been thinking about forming a free clinic, too.

"It had been kind of a dream I've had for a period of time," Lewis said. "Lo and behold, we were right on target together."

Lewis' church owned an old house behind its sanctuary on Murphy Drive that they used for teaching Sunday school.

Good Shepherd board of directors member L.C. Thomas remembers the two men working to create the clinic.

"I saw (Kelley) and Jimmy walk through that old house and envision a clinic in it," Thomas said. "You could see in Kelley's eyes a dream he's had for many years."

Lewis said the church renovated the house and started operations there.

Now the clinic is open on Mondays when Kelley can volunteer time away from his own practice at Atlanta Medical Center Family Medicine on Mt. Zion Road in Morrow.

He sees about 10 patients a week, providing basic primary care for ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes and coughs and colds. The patients come from all different ethnic backgrounds, but Kelley said a majority of them are women.

Many of the patients have low paying jobs that don't offer health insurance.

The clinic turns away around 100 patients a week at this time because of their limited operating hours, but they are hoping to raise enough money to hire a part-time doctor and be able to stay open five days a week.

Former Georgia legislator and publisher Jim Wood holds his Tomato Sandwich Party annually to benefit The Good Shepherd Clinic. This year the clinic also began what they hope will be an annual bicycle ride to raise funds as well.

It also receives funding from the Clayton County Community Foundation, the Presbyterian Church of Greater Atlanta and local churches and civic clubs. They are also selling Kroger gift cards and a portion of the proceeds from purchases made with the cards go to the clinic.

Kelley said he's also helped found the Georgia Free Clinic Network.

"We're banding together so we can do more to help the people of our state that we can do individually," Kelley said.

Tom Underwood with the Georgia Partnership for Caring Foundation said he's known about Kelley's work with the clinic and the Free Clinic Network for a number of years.

"He has just donated countless hours there," Underwood said. "The patients just rave about him, what a wonderful, kind person he is."

Kelley treats his patients at the free clinic in the same way as his patients at his regular practice, Underwood said. Thomas and Lewis also had glowing reports on Kelley's skill.

"He's probably the most dedicated man I've met in a long time," Lewis said.

But this will be Kelley's last year working for the clinic he helped begin. In December he's moving to Florida, but he has faith that his work here will go on.

"We fully believe that what we're doing is God's work and it's going to be physically supported if I'm there or not," Kelley said.

Lewis said they are looking for a new doctor.

"We realize that the clinic has a life of its own. It's not dependent on one person," Lewis said.

"Everyday People" is a regular feature of the News Daily that is published every Friday. If you know anybody who would make a good candidate for this feature, contact Assistant Managing Editor Bob Paslay at (770) 478-5753 ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .