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W.Va. woman's efforts provide free health care

March 22, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

By DAVE McMILLIONcharlestown@herald-mail.com

When Leona Richards was working as a home health care nurse, she saw people who were struggling with high medical costs.

Such patients often took matters into their own hands, regardless of their doctors' orders, Richards said.

To make their pills last longer, some patients on tight budgets would cut them into sections and take only part of their prescribed dosage, Richards said.

Others on medication for more than one ailment might take medication for each on alternate months, Richards said.

Knowing all that, Richards decided the community needed a free health care clinic.

The family nurse practitioner got Jefferson Memorial Hospital's support for a clinic that would provide medicine and health care at no charge.

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Doctors at the hospital agreed to volunteer their time at the clinic to see patients. Community members, including attorney David Layva and Charles Town accountant Wayne Thompson, agreed to serve on the board of directors that will run the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic, Richards said.

Richards contacted health care and pharmaceutical companies, asking them to donate medicine and supplies.

Medicine, as well as medical supplies such as syringes, rubber gloves, needle holders and urine cups, arrived at her Bunker Hill house.

"I found out what companies made what and I made up a wish list. I just kept it in my basement until the clinic opened," Richards said.

The Jefferson County Commissioners agreed to give $20,000 to help start the clinic, and the United Way of Jefferson County recently nominated the clinic for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, she said. The grant would match community donations dollar for dollar and could bring $300,000 to the clinic over the next four years, according to Richards.

City Hospital spokeswoman Teresa McCabe said she has been impressed at the way Richards has been able to recruit professionals from the community to help operate the clinic.

"If it wasn't for Leona, I'm certain the free clinic wouldn't be where it is at this point," said McCabe.

City Hospital has offered to donate old equipment to the clinic.

Jefferson Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Pamela Holstein-Wallace said Richards paid $500 of her own money to establish the clinic's nonprofit status. "She's just a dynamo lady," said Holstein-Wallace.

The clinic began offering services last October and is seeing about 25 people a week, Richards said.

Until the clinic finds a permanent location, it is operating out of a building owned by Jefferson Memorial Hospital along 5th Avenue in Ranson.

Her work to open the free clinic was a path Richards said she never imagined following.

Richards was working as a secretary for the U.S. Fisheries Center in Leetown, W.Va., 12 years ago when she decided to make a career change.

She landed a job as a nursing assistant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Martinsburg, which helped her get a bachelor's degree in nursing from Shepherd College.

She later obtained a master's degree in nursing and a nursing practitioner degree from West Virginia University.

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