Client Spotlight: Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic
Nine years ago, Leona Doner was battling diabetes and needed insulin—but she didn’t have health insurance. At the time, Doner was working as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) for an organization that was part of the North Carolina Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NCAFCC). While attending a meeting, she learned that she could start a free clinic herself—and Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic was born.
Shepherd’s Clinic, located in Zebulon, North Carolina, is a free rural healthcare clinic that serves as the medical home to 1,200 uninsured individuals living in four neighboring counties. Doner started the clinic after learning that the NCAFCC was offering $20,000 startup grants to qualified individuals.
The startup clinic team consisted of Doner and four volunteer doctors. “We are not a faith-based organization, but we are people of faith,” she says. After sharing information about the clinic throughout the community, Doner quickly found a number of volunteer recruits. “The whole clinic is based on God’s provision for us,” she says.
Today, Shepherd’s Clinic’s takes a holistic approach to healthcare with services that focus on internal medicine for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and COPD. Additional services include prescription assistance, nutritional counseling, behavioral health, and monthly cardiologist visits. In addition, the clinic has partnerships with Project Access in Wake and Johnson Counties to offer care to specialty patients, and it provides mammograms and blindness prevention services through Rex Mobile.
To qualify for services, clients must be 200% or below the federal poverty line with no insurance. The clinic serves patients living in four rural counties, many of whom face transportation challenges around obtaining medical care. “This area has a lot of cross sectors,” explains Doner. “Patients might live in one county but work in another.
This mishmash can make it hard for people to access care because they don’t meet certain criteria based on their address or other factors.”
In 2015, Shepherd’s Clinic began working with The INS Group to expand its capacity. “Now, more than ever, funding for nonprofits is getting harder and harder to find. There are more hands in the pot than there ever were before,” explains Doner. The INS Group helped Shepherd’s Clinic secure a new multi-year grant to support daily operations, and it is currently writing a grant in support of behavioral health and case management services. “Ruth Peebles is a whole picture person, and she believes in the projects that she writes the grants for,” says Doner.
As a former uninsured person, Doner understands the importance of her clinic’s services. “I used to be one of the people I served,” she says. Doner remembers one patient from the early days of the clinic who particularly needed care. “A young lady was sent to us from the emergency room. She was in a car accident, but a nurse in the ER noticed a lump in the woman’s throat and said she had to get it checked out. So this patient came to us at Shepherd’s Clinic. She was a single mom with a three year-old, and it looked like she may have had a goiter. We sent her to an endocrinologist through Project Access, and he found a surgeon who was willing to do the surgery and take it out. At the surgery, they discovered it was thyroid cancer and removed it all. She’s been fine ever since! But who knows how far it would have gone before she came in for medical care,” remembers Doner.
Running a free health clinic isn’t easy, but Doner offers encouragement to others. “Keep fighting and going at it from whatever ways you can properly get funding. I have been taken to the edge of the precipice so many times,” she says. “Just keep truckin’!”