A healthy dose of hope

by David Plummer

Conway County and Perry County residents – who would otherwise forgo medical treatment due to little or no financial means – now have access to free medical, dental, optometric, nutritional and pharmaceutical care through the Conway County Christian Clinic. This non-profit, free clinic began as a dream and has now grown to serve more than 300 qualifying patients per year.

In early 2003, the city of Morrilton’s leadership group, Vision 20/20, set out to assess the health needs of the local area and devise a plan to meet those needs. The group, led by the Rev. Chris Cooper, found that the greatest problem facing local residents was their inability to afford medical care. After much thought, the group decided that the best solution would be to create a clinic that would provide professional medical care at absolutely no charge to its patients.

With the dream of a free clinic, six members of the group traveled around Arkansas and Mississippi to tour established free clinics. As they traveled in a van, the plans for the Conway County Christian Clinic came together.

When the group returned to Morrilton, they found a former nursing facility with 12 rooms. This facility at 1208 West Childress St. in Morrilton would be the new home of the Conway County Christian Clinic. Work began immediately on renovating it into a fully operational medical facility.

On May 18, 2004, the Conway County Christian Clinic opened its doors and treated 18 patients and filled more than 150 prescriptions.

“I actually had not intended on being this involved on such a long-term basis until we held the first clinic,” said Jerry Bolin, clinic administrator, who had originally volunteered to assist in the renovation process. “The first time we started seeing patients, they went to the pharmacy and left holding their medications and had tears in their eyes. Right then, I was hooked. It was the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done.

“I’ve held big jobs and experienced a great deal of success in them, but nothing comes close to the gratifications that you receive seeing people come in with fear and despair on their faces and leaving with hope.”

Since that first day, the clinic has grown to almost 900 patient visits and thousands of prescriptions filled per year.

The Conway County Christian Clinic is one of more than 20 free clinics in Arkansas. The clinics operate partially on state funding from grants made possible by the increased tax on tobacco products, and their remaining funding relies on donations from local churches, organizations, charitable foundations and individual donors.

Currently, the Conway County Christian Clinic has eight doctors, three dentists, two optometrists, two pharmacists and a nutritionist; all donate their time and expertise to the clinic. Assisting them are dozens of other volunteers from local clinics, organizations and churches. When a patient has need for services or diagnostics that cannot be provided at the Conway County Christian Clinic, area hospitals, surgeons and specialists lend their assistance.

The Conway County Christian Clinic is grateful for its many volunteers. One of 24 local churches provides dinner to the volunteering medical staff who come to the clinic after serving in their jobs at other clinics and hospitals.  

The Conway County Christian Clinic operates every first and third Thursday of the month starting at 5:30 a.m. All patients must have an appointment. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact the Conway County Christian Clinic at 501.354.4411 from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday.

“We have some of the best volunteers anyone can ask for, but we can always use more,” Bolin said. “We would love to have more medical practitioners, and we really need more pharmacists. The more practitioners we have, the less workload we have to place on each volunteer and the more patients we will be able to see each clinic.”