“If you don’t get your blood pressure under control, you could die.”
I was in school in 2009 when I met Paige M. Cummings, the Executive Director of the Athens Nurses Clinic. I was volunteering at a homeless resource fair when I overheard these firm, direct words coming from the booth next door.
I craned my neck to look over to see Paige taking a blood pressure cuff off of one of the fair attendees, a gentleman in his 50s. She was looking him in the eye and telling him in plain words that his blood pressure was too high and that he needed to take steps to bring it down.
The gentleman was not looking away or deflecting her words. He was listening intently and seemed to be really absorbing the information. In my short time in nursing school, I had not seen any medical professional speak to a patient so honestly about their condition. And it seemed to be working! I had to meet this woman.
After Paige finished with the gentleman, I not-so-coolly rushed over and introduced myself. I also may have thrown myself at her feet and asked (AKA begged) to work with her. Paige calmly listened and then told me about volunteer opportunities at the Athens Nurses Clinic.
What is the Athens Nurses Clinic?
The Athens Nurses Clinic (ANC) is located in Athens, Georgia and has its roots planted in providing healthcare to the homeless, indigent members of Athens-Clarke County since 1988 as the Georgia Nurses Association Foundation Clinic for the Homeless. In 1993, with the help of many local nurses and volunteers, The Athens Nurses Clinic moved to Reese Street, opening its doors to not just homeless members of Athens-Clarke County, but also to the uninsured, indigent members of Athens-Clarke County and Northeast Georgia.
In 2014, ANC moved to North Avenue and collaborated with three other agencies as a part of the Athens Resource Center for Hope. ANC is now open five days a week providing healthcare services and medications to patients at no cost. Services include the treatment of many chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, gastric re-flux, asthma, allergies, and arthritis. ANC also accepts walk-in patients Monday-Friday for the treatment of acute conditions, such as colds, flu, UTIs, rashes, or tooth abscesses. ANC also provides laboratory testing, free mammograms, pap smears, vision screening, dental care, and Hepatitis C treatment.
The mission of the Athens Nurses Clinic extends far beyond providing medical treatment to patients, focusing heavily on education and disease prevention. ANC provides a year-long CDC approved Diabetic Prevention Program for the community, encouraging diabetic patients to bring family and friends to tag along. Nutrition, exercise, and smoking cessation classes are offered to patients who want to lose weight, improve their health, and decrease their stress levels. Recently, the clinic has partnered with SNAP educators, UGA, and the Athens Farmers Market to implement what is called the FVRx program. Through this program, enrolled patients attend classes focused on healthy lifestyle choices and receive prescriptions for free fruits and vegetables from the local Farmers Market. Equipping patients with the knowledge needed to improve or prevent acute and chronic disease is a key function to the standard of healthcare ANC provides.
With over 6,000 individual patient encounters in 2017, ANC is not slowing down anytime soon. The staff and volunteers are making a difference every day and saving lives along the way.
My Experience at the Athens Nurses Clinic
Soon after meeting Paige, I became a regular medical volunteer at the Athens Nurses Clinic. It was overwhelming how much direct-patient care experience and knowledge that I was getting each day that I was there.
I also was so confused because I was the ONLY nursing student volunteering at the Clinic. Where was everyone? Had I stumbled upon the last, unsaturated volunteer location in the city of Athens, home of over 30,000 students all vying for volunteer experience?
I started talking to my classmates, trying to recruit a few to help out at the Clinic. Then I started talking to the other colleges in town trying to see if there might be other students out there who might want to come volunteer from the pharmacy or public health schools. This work evolved into me being the first Volunteer Coordinator at the Athens Nurses Clinic!
Today the Clinic continues to be a clinical site for dozens of students each semester from multiple local colleges and partners with the educational organizations, like the University of Georgia (my alma mater), to offer free educational programs to the Clinic’s patients. The Athens Nurses Clinic is a holistic center of healing and treatment to its patients and community.
What the Athens Nurses Clinic Taught Me
I continued to work at the Athens Nurses Clinic throughout nursing school and when I became a new nurse. The Clinic is where I learned to be a patient advocate to everyone, regardless of their SES or cultural background.
Annabella Uhde, ANC’s Office Administrator and Interpreter for the many Spanish-only speaking patients that receive care at the clinic, helped teach me how to best address the cultural and language needs of patients from other countries. Her positive energy flowed through each patient interaction. I learned the importance of a smile and kind touch from her.
ANC is also where I learned to be a strong, nurse leader. Paige was (and still is) always juggling a million tasks and wearing too many hats to count. I would watch Paige find the funds to support the clinic, manage the staff and army of volunteers, orchestrate the clinical service lines, sit on a slew of boards/committees and still dabble in patient care when needed. An ex-military nurse, Paige always gets the job done. Paige was one of my first nurse mentors and taught me that you can be a great nurse leader no matter what kind of clinical setting you may find yourself in.
How You Can Support the Athens Nurses Clinic
The Athens Nurses Clinic is able to provide all that it does to its patients because of generous donations and financial support from the community. The world of non-profit healthcare can be brutally hard, but great people every day are out there in the trenches, fighting to increase access to care for many marginalized patient populations.
And YOU can help the Athens Nurses Clinic in their work! There are several ways that you can donate -
Tomatoes at Terrapin
Tomorrow is the 9th Annual Tomatoes at Terrapin fundraiser for the Athens Nurses Clinic. This is the largest fundraising event that ANC puts on each year. It is a great day of outdoor music, tomatoes sandwiches and beer, all held at the Terrapin Beer Co. brewery in Athens, GA.
Check out the details >> http://tomatoesatterrapin.com/
If you want to be more hands-on in your help to the Athens Nurses Clinic, they are always looking for qualified volunteers to help out!
Volunteer at ANC >> http://athensnursesclinic.org/wp/get-involved/volunteer/
If you have some spare dollars hanging around, you can make an easy, online donation on the Athens Nurses Clinic website. This money goes directly to providing free care to the patients who need it most in the Athens-Clarke County community.
Donate to ANC >> http://athensnursesclinic.org/wp/donate/
I continue to be amazed at the excellent work being done at the Athens Nurses Clinic. If you are in Athens, Georgia, go by and check them out! If you are not nearby, look in your own community to see if there are other non-profit clinics. I guarantee that they are out there, working to provide the same magic to patients in your area.
Go see how you can get involved. You never know what you might learn by helping out.
- Sarah @ New Thing Nurse
About the Author - Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL is an educator, speaker, blogger and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing world. New Thing Nurse is organized to provide support and guidance to aspiring nurses, newly graduated nurses, and veteran RNs looking to make a change in their life.
Whether it’s a new school, new job or new idea,
New Thing Nurse wants to help with your new thing!