Approaching the seventh anniversary of its opening, The Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett, a non-profit organization, expects to deliver more than 6000 medical appointments in 2012. Opening its doors in Lawrenceville in June 2005, the goal of the Center is to provide primary, non-urgent health care services to the uninsured poor of Gwinnett County and surrounding areas. A faith-based organization staffed almost entirely by volunteers, the Center strives to meet the physical and spiritual needs of its patients. “We logged just over 1400 appointments in the first quarter,” says Gregory E. Lang, Executive Director. “The need for our services is clear, and I’m pleased to work with a group of volunteers so willing to respond to the call.”
During 2011 the Center was initially open only two days per week and then eventually three days. Since January the Center has been open five days per week, offering medical service four days and counseling services on the fifth day. “We are currently supported by the efforts of thirty-eight active medical volunteers and countless paraprofessional volunteers,” Lang says. “We have not had to reduce our new schedule by even one hour due to a volunteer shortage.” The Center sees patients by appointment but often accepts walk-ins.
Typically, the uninsured have few choices when in need of on-going medical care. Going to the emergency room for treatment of non-emergent services is financially overwhelming for all involved, and although many physicians discount their fees for the uninsured, the fee must still be sufficient to fund a payroll. “We are not a free clinic,” Lang explains, “but we are able to offer very low flat fees thanks to the thousands of hours of professional labor donated to us.” Last year the Center received nearly 5000 volunteer hours valued at $205,000.
Yet, the Center faces staffing challenges. Although volunteers may serve for an extended time, they all eventually move on to other commitments. “It often takes four to six people to fill one full-time roll,” Lang says. The Center specifically needs physician and nurse practitioner volunteers, as well as bilingual individuals willing to translate medical terminology for its large number of Latino patients. Lang also works with physicians who cannot see patients at the Center but who wish to volunteer services in their own offices.
In spite of its operational success, a second, more threatening, challenge looms on the near horizon. The non-profit’s mortgage comes due in less than a year, and the downturn in the real estate market has hurt the Center in the same way as it has hurt many others – its Club Drive property is no longer worth as much as is owed on it. “We need to raise $150,000 in the next ten months so that we might successfully refinance our mortgage,” Lang says. “We provide an invaluable service to the community and I believe that is recognized by many; I’m sure we will somehow become able to settle this debt.”
Gwinnett County is home to more than 180,000 uninsured people.