Clinic works tirelessly through the pandemic to help impoverished patients

BRUNSWICK COUNTY (WWAY) — A local volunteer-run clinic is working to keep their patients and community safe in the fight against COVID-19.

Studies show those living in rural communities are twice as likely to die of COVID-19 than those in metropolitan areas. The New Hope Clinic offers medical care, testing, vaccines, and yes, hope to anyone living below 150% of the poverty line in Brunswick County free of charge.

New Hope Clinic serves between 500 and 600 Brunswick County residents living below the poverty line unable to afford healthcare. Dr. James Boston has worked with the clinic more than two decades, treating the uninsureds’ chronic illnesses until they are eligible for Medicare at age 65.

“If you have uncontrolled diabetes by the time you’re 65, you may be on dialysis, you may be blind, you may have lost your limbs,” he said. “So it’s important that these people that don’t have access to healthcare have healthcare.”

The non-profit clinic is run by six staff members and more than 100 volunteer from the medical field who come back because they care about their patients. In her years as executive director, Sheila Roberts says she’s seen physicians and patients form a special bond here. For most, it’s their only source of care.

“It’s really eye opening for some people who have not had certain experiences in life,” she said. “You just want to take everyone home with  you.”

Already a healthcare staple in Brunswick County, when the pandemic hit, New Hope Clinic was one of the first North Carolinian free clinics to get vaccines. Boston remembers his patients were hesitant. Through the years he’d spent at the clinic, some were were more willing to listen to him than other medical providers.

According to Boston, “Some people will trust, especially if they’ve been seeing me the last year or so, they may have a certain amount of trust in what I try to explain to them. But it’s a process.”

Feeling a responsibility to the community they volunteered in, staff spent endless hours educating and speaking with locals. They finally vaccinated more than 2,000 people in the beginning of 2021.

“Starting in February through May, with a huge, we called them Sheila’s army,” said New Hope Pharmacy Director, Hailey Murray, “but with a lot of volunteers we did vaccination clinics out in the parking lot.”

And though the pandemic dried up many resources the non-profit typically relied on and the cut the number of volunteers able to help, Murray said those who could…. did. Many continue to help on top of their fulltime healthcare jobs.

“Because we felt like that was the right thing to do,” she explained. “And I think a lot of us during the pandemic needed to do something to feel we were helping instead of wringing our hands. I feel very strongly that I need to be of service in my community. And this is a great way for me to do that.” 

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