Clinic brings hope to those affected by economy

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

In October 2008, a man who regularly portrays a fictional character walked into the Community of Hope Health Clinic in Pelham facing a very real problem.

The man, who dresses up as Santa Claus at several community events every holiday season, and his wife had recently lost their family business to the nationwide economic downturn, and were forced to drop their health insurance.

After the man arrived at the clinic, Community of Hope’s volunteer doctors examined him and discovered a pair of severe problems.

“He and his wife had a small mom and pop business, and they had to close their business when the economy went bad,” said Community of Hope Executive Director Chris Monceret. “He had a terrible case of gout, and they were unable to afford health insurance.

“But while we were checking him out, we discovered he had a life-threatening level of blood pressure,” Monceret added. “After we helped him get well, he told us that we had literally saved that Christmas for Santa Claus.”

Over the past two years, the Community of Hope health clinic has been treating hundreds of Shelby County residents who are unable to afford health insurance.

Monceret and a part-time administrative assistant are the only two staff members at the clinic. Currently, 16 physicians and 51 volunteers donate their time to help those who are unable to fund their primary medical care, preventative medical services and medical tests.

“We have grown considerably as far as the number of physicians we have volunteering their services,” Monceret said. “When we first started the clinic in October 2008, we had six physicians. That number has grown to 16 now.”

Every Thursday night, the doctors and volunteers give their time to help neighbors who have been impacted by the economy. Many of the volunteers come to the clinic straight from work and do not leave until the last patient has been treated.

Recently, Sunday school classes and other volunteers have been serving in the clinic’s hospitality department. Hospitality volunteers regularly bring food for the clinic physicians and other volunteers who are unable to eat dinner before coming to the facility.

“That really creates a festive environment for the volunteers,” Monceret said. “We even started making to-go boxes for the physicians who don’t get to take a break until later because they are seeing patients.”

Other volunteers fill the roles of chaplains, interpreters, receptionists and many others.

Because many Shelby County residents have been hit hard by the economy, Community of Hope has seen a steady rise in the number of patients coming to the clinic each week.

“We have seen many victims of the downturn,” Monceret said. “Lots of people have been laid off who have always had health insurance. Things can just change so quickly.”

The clinic currently draws about 30 patients per week, about half of whom are Hispanic, Monceret said.

“Many people thought the clinic would only serve Hispanic patients, but that is not the case at all,” Monceret said. “The split is usually about 50-50.”

Since the clinic began, it has drawn much support from local churches, and has received “tremendous” support from Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster, Monceret said.

“A lot of the people who volunteer with us want to do mission work right here in their own county,” Monceret said. “Why not do it here at home instead of flying out of the country?”

The clinic begins each Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Shelby County Health Department off County Services Drive in Pelham. To learn more about becoming a patient, a clinic physician or a volunteer at the clinic, call Monceret at 685-4154, or e-mail Chris.Monceret@adph.state.al.us.