PITTSTON — When Dr. John Callahan broke his hip last Wednesday, it threw the Care and Concern Free Health Clinic in Pittston out of whack, too.
Callahan, 74, is medical director for the clinic, a ministry of St. John the Evangelist Church, and the clinic’s director, Gloria Blandina, said she’s scrambling in his absence.
“It’s become very worrisome,” Blandina said, “because we have been trying very hard for a long time to get doctors interested in (volunteering at) the clinic.”
From his bed in a John Heinz Rehabilitation Hospital, Callahan said declining volunteerism likely has happened for a few reasons.
When he opened his practice 48 years ago, there were 32 doctors in the Greater Pittston area. Now, there are fewer than 10, by his count.
Callahan was not bitter about the fewer available physicians, and Blandina said she’d rather not make anyone feel guilty. Both agreed doctors work long hours, and many have families at home to absorb the rest of their free time.
During its six years of operation, more than 3,100 patients have used free services at the clinic, totaling more than 7,300 visits, Blandina said. Between 25 and 40 patients visit each week.
“This tells me that we’ve become the primary-care physicians for our patients,” Blandina said. “If we could find four doctors who could volunteer one day a month, that would be a tremendous help. If we could find more, that would be even better.”
Four other doctors volunteer regularly, and a fifth opted to work Wednesday in Callahan’s absence. Also, four nurse practitioners volunteer weekly. Blandina called them a “tremendous asset to the clinic.” But she said they could offer more consistent free service with more volunteers on a rotating schedule.
“The uninsured in this country should be everybody’s concern,” she said. “If we could just have everybody helping, the burden would be so much easier.”
Pay it forward
She remembered it was near the end of the day some time ago and only two patients, a man and a woman, were left in the waiting room. One was feeling a lot of pain because of an illness and needed medicine, so she was given a prescription. An attendant told her she would have to pay a $4 copay for the medicine at the Walmart pharmacy.
The woman’s head sunk, but she did not speak up.
“Do you have the money?” Blandina asked.
“No,” the woman replied
Blandina turned to go back to the doctor to see if anything could be done for the woman. When she returned, the second patient, a man, was counting out coins in his hand.
The man hurried to reach the woman before Blandina returned.
“Here’s $2 in change,” he said to the woman.
“This will help with your co-pay. Look, they helped me, now I’m helping you, now it’s your turn to go out and help somebody else,” the young man said.
“It was one of those moments that was a teaching moment for all of us,” Blandina said.
The clinic is to continue to be open as usual every Wednesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. until Callahan’s return. The doctor is to be released from the hospital next month but will be confined to a wheelchair for some time. He insists he’ll be ready to return much sooner than Blandina would like to allow.
“For one night a week, I can get transportation to the clinic … get some of the nurses to help me in and see patients from my wheelchair,” Callahan said.
Those interested in volunteering at the clinic should contact Gloria Blandina at 570-693-0766.