Nicholas H. Noyes Memorial Hospital is a rural, 72-bed hospital, in Western New York. The hospital serves a diverse population in terms of age and income; both blue and white collar workers, fixed incomes, no insurance, government programs as well as a transient/migrant group. The challenge for Noyes is to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity for basic health care. All too often, due to finances, insurance or locations, individuals don’t seek out medical help until “something happens”. In some cases, this could be too late and would have been avoided if the person had seen a medical professional sooner.
To address the need of easy access to basic health checks and information, Noyes Hospital started its Free Health Clinic Program. Under the direction of RN, Linda McGunnigle, this program offers different screening opportunities every month, in different areas of the county including county fairs, banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores as well as at the hospital.
This innovative program began in March 1997 and since then, has sponsored more than 20 clinics at the hospital and an additional 30 clinics throughout the area. Each clinic has a specific health theme and every clinic includes blood pressure checks, general health information and information about other hospital services, programs and physicians. Screenings offered include skin cancer, glaucoma, glucose, cholesterol and hearing. When a health concern is identified, counseling and follow-up is done.
Since its inception, more than 7, 000 individuals have attended these clinics, many without insurance, some only in the area for the season as well as permanent area residents. Many of these individuals would not have sought medical care if it had not been for these free clinics. Some stated they only see a doctor when they have to.
The health benefit to the community is enormous. As a result of the screenings, many significant health risks were caught early including: skin cancer, many with high blood pressure who did not know their pressure was up, as well as those who thought their medication was doing the job and had never gone back to the doctor. Several individuals with high cholesterol levels were referred on to physicians. The program has identified individuals with high blood sugar – most recently an individual with a level of 348 who thought she was fine. Had any of these situations been ignored until “something happened,” the outcome could be very costly both medically and financially.
The program is not only for adults. Statistics show that kids learn, when they have fun, so the program has sponsored a bike rally and summer safety program, self esteem classes and an annual asthma camp. McGunnigle is the only paid staff person who also volunteers time to the program. The core group of volunteers is retired nurses. For bigger programs, additional volunteers come from hospital staff, family and friends.