A community-wide effort is now underway to open a low-cost medical clinic in Athens in 2009, and organizers say the effort has been picking up steam.

The Disciples Clinic of Athens will help the uninsured residents of Henderson County receive the basic medical care they need in hopes of helping them avoid hospital stays and trips to the emergency room, clinic chief medical officer Gary Williamson M.D. said.

“It has taken quite a lot of time and effort to get the project started,” Clinic Board Member Mike Riffe “There is a great need for the service in the Athens area.”

The clinic began as an outreach ministry of the First Christian Church in Athens where Williamson is a member.

“The First Christian Church has been called the little engine that could,” Williamson said. “It not very big in numbers but it’s been instrumental in several important charitable organizations in town.”

The clinic idea soon spread to other churches and to members of the community.

Williamson, an emergency physician at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler said he and several Athens doctors had long seen the need for such a clinic but the project seemed overwhelming.

“No one person without some sort of organizational help could begin to do it,” Williamson said.

In May, Williamson mentioned the need at a church luncheon and found an outpouring of support for the idea.

“The timing was right. We had about 30 volunteers jump on it,” Williamson said. “They’ve been attending our meetings. We’ve modeled our effort after a very successful faith based clinic in Tyler.

Bethesda has been providing care for residents there for about 6 years. With church and community support the clinic has expanded and has become an example for ECHO—Empowering Church Healthcare Outreach, a nonprofit organization based in Fort Worth that helps churches start healthcare ministries.

Williamson said ECHO has been helpful in an advisory role as the organizers of the Disciples Clinic work to get a clinic started. Disciples Clinic Inc. has been registered as a corporation and the paperwork has been filed for tax exempt status. That could take about three months. The goal is to have the clinic in operation in June.

The treatment dispensed at the center will not be free, but the cost will be nominal and based on the patient’s ability to pay.

“We hope to serve people with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level who are working in Athens or Henderson County,” Williamson said. “They have to be working at least 20 hours a week.”

Williamson said up to 20 percent of the population of Athens and 24 percent of the population of the county are in that income bracket and uninsured. The clinic won’t be able to reach everyone, but Williamson hopes to serve about 900 to 1,000 people annually for the first couple of years

Besides Riffe, and Williamson, board members include: Melvin Bateman; Steve Grant; Neil Hunter; Ty Morris; Barbara Pettycrew; Mike Riffe; Joe Ed Smith, MD; Jan Wiley; Clay Estes and Steve C. Woodruff, DDS, Gary Williamson, MD is Chief Medical Officer, Layton Holt serves as Chief Administrative Officer and Dora Walls is Recording Secretary.

“Clay Estes is a retired businessman who serves as president of the board. He’s a retired businessman in Athens and his help has been so important to the project,” Williamson said.

Williamson said Holt has done a tremendous amount of work in starting the clinic.

“He’s written the board’s bylaws. I’ve been sort of a designated cheerleader in all of the business part of it because it’s definitely not my expertise,” Williamson said.

Trending Video

Recommended for you