MORROW — Being sick is scary. Being sick and uninsured can be downright terrifying.

But what’s worse are the medical bills that start showing up in the mailbox, often before you’re even better.

According to Chelsea Folds, Good Shepherd Clinic director, 25 percent of Clayton County’s population does not have medical insurance. That’s about 72,000 people of the county’s estimated 290,000 residents.

That’s a lot of people who may avoid getting treatment, often for diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

That’s where the Good Shepherd Clinic comes in to help bridge the gap. It’s nearly all-volunteer staff offers free medical care to uninsured residents at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For example, the FPL is $12,490 for a one-person household. Good Shepherd will treat those who make $24,980 or less annually.

Folds said the clinic offers the kind of care many would receive if visiting their primary care physician. She said what they most often treat are those suffering from chronic illnesses.

“Especially our working poor,” she said. “They get sick and aren’t treated, which then leads to other problems.”

The clinic not only treats patients, but educates them as well.

“Our staff is able to take extra time to help our patients understand their illness and what they can do to help themselves outside of just taking medication,” Folds said.

The staff also becomes listeners to not only medical complaints. They often become the ear patients need to tell their stories.

“We know what’s going on in their lives and we hear their stories,” Folds said. “We’re a place of comfort and safety, and we can give them a little extra time they need here.”

Good Shepherd survives off donations. Folds said 80 cents of every dollar goes to patient care. And though it’s nearly all volunteer, there are expenses that need to be covered, from the electric bill to medication.

Keeping the doors open

The clinic’s biggest fundraiser, their annual Tomato Sandwich Party, is coming up. On Aug. 3, from 5-7:30 p.m. residents are invited to join clinic staff at The Morrow Center for their 17th annual party. For an entry fee of $20, old and new friends can get together to enjoy tomato sandwiches, fruit, dessert, chips and drinks as well as a pickle bar and live bluegrass music.

Folds assures there’s something for everyone, including a wide-variety of mayonnaises.

“This party makes or breaks our year,” she said. “Everyone who takes a bite of a sandwich should know that 80 percent of their ticket price is going to help someone.”

She said the party has become known as the “place to be in Clayton County.”

“People come together and know they’re helping a really wonderful cause in our community,” she said.

By the numbers

For fiscal year 2018-19, Good Shepherd Clinic served 674 patients and 301 new patients for a total of 3,005 visits. According to their annual report card, the average cost per patient visit is $365, saving the county more than $1.1 million in health care costs.

Folds said over the next five years, the clinic’s goal is to double the number of patients treated yearly. Their first step has been to open an additional day per week.

“We want to make a bigger dent in our community,” she said.

The Good Shepherd Clinic, 6392 Murphy Drive in Morrow, is open Monday from 1-7 p.m. and Tuesday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. To make an appointment, call 770-968-1310.

For more information, visit www.goodshepherdclinic.org.

Education reporter Heather Middleton joined the Clayton News and Henry Herald in 2002.

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