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Free clinic's director embraces command to ‘heal the sick'
Jim Conlee, executive director of the Yuma Free Clinic, believes his new role will allow him to fulfill the Biblical command to “heal the sick.” And it's a need he sees in Yuma.
“The food bank is feeding the hungry, Crossroads (Mission) is providing housing and the Yuma Free Clinic will provide medical care.”
Wellton resident Conlee agreed to take on the challenge of leading the free clinic after Marcella Ruch shared her vision with him. She announced intentions to start a free clinic last fall.
“She has the same goals as I do in regards to assisting those who are not able to assist themselves. That just appealed to me,” Conlee said.
Semi-retired from the teaching and construction industries, he has been around the medical field for many years, albeit indirectly. He has been married 44 years to a “wonderful woman who is a physician's assistant,” he explained.
The clinic, which will be staffed by volunteers, is set to open its doors on Jan. 8.
“This was just an idea and a calling eight months ago. Now we will be opening our doors,” Conlee said.
The clinic will move into 3,800 square feet of office space donated by Yuma Regional Medical Center in the Kachina Plaza, 2451 S. Avenue A, Suite F101-102.
“I can't say enough about YRMC,” Conlee said.
Patients will be seen 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 5-9 p.m. Thursdays.
The clinic will begin screening prospective patients in mid-November. “Some patients might qualify for insurance and don't realize it. And if they don't, then they'll qualify for Yuma Free Clinic,” said Conlee.
The clinic won't charge for any services but will accept donations. “When (Ruch) put ‘free' in the name, she meant free. This is exactly what it is,” he noted.
“We will literally be that safety net. If there are any cracks — and there are cracks through nobody's fault, it's just the way the system is set up — we will be there to provide medical health care for people who can't afford it. Jesus said, ‘When you have done it to the least of them, you have done it to me.'”
In the beginning, the clinic will provide care in three areas: outpatient medical care and family practice (sore throats, stomach aches, etc.), chronic disease management (diabetes, etc.) and acute care (cuts, minor injuries, etc.).
It will also have an on-site pharmacy so health providers will be able to prescribe and give out medication.
Eventually down the road, the clinic will provide dental services. A retired dentist has volunteered to become the dental clinic's administrator, and another has donated all of his equipment.
The clinic is looking for partners for laboratory and X-ray services.
Currently Conlee is making sure the facility has all the proper city and state licenses and that it meets all standards for a health clinic.
He's also trying to raise awareness about what the nonprofit clinic will do and soliciting financial support by contacting churches, civic groups and service organizations.
Many of the community churches have already come on board, Conlee said.
The clinic is also asking for donations of office supplies and equipment, such as computers and “whatever a business is required to have in order to function.”
Despite the economic downturn, he said, “Individual and businesses continue to just give and give. It's amazing. It's the culture of the business community in Yuma. ‘You need something? Tell me what you need.'”
Of course, the clinic also accepts cash tax-deductible donations, which can be given through their church or sent to Yuma Free Clinic, c/o Catholic Community Services, 690 E. 32nd St., Yuma, AZ 85365.
“We not only need donations of cash but of time. We are 100 percent volunteer,” Conlee said.
“This is really a mission project, although you don't cross the border or go overseas. You can serve a mission without having to leave the city of Yuma.”
Community members interested in volunteering are invited to send letters offering their services and explaining their training. People interested in serving in medical positions are asked to send copies of credentials and licenses.
Volunteers can serve as few, or as many, hours as they would like. Letters may be sent to Catholic Community Services at the address above.
“We need volunteers of any kind, some with health-care backgrounds, but then we need people to do paperwork, sweep floors. If someone wants to volunteer, we'll find a place for them,” Conlee said.
For more information, call the Yuma Free Clinic at 341-9362 and leave a message.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.