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Nowhere else to turn

February 25th, 2009 at 1:48 pm

NEW BRAUNFELS – At the corner of San Antonio and Hickory streets sits a doctor’s office like any other. But like none other in town.

Patients sit in the waiting room where they read magazines, and children play with toys on the ground as their appointment nears. Women fidget with their purses. They tap their toes to songs playing in their minds. Patients wait here with a variety of ailments, many of which are preventable with regular medical care. Care none of these patients can afford.

And here at the New Braunfels Volunteers in Medicine clinic, they don’t have to pay for it.

If there are gaps in this country’s health care system, the people here surely are falling through them. Despite some of them working multiple jobs to support their respective families, none of them have insurance. Some have never been offered it. Others lost it when they changed jobs, if they had it to begin with. This clinic is the only net that keeps the New Braunfels working poor from falling to the floor.

“Without us, they have nowhere else to turn,” said Jennifer Malatek, executive director of New Braunfels Volunteers in Medicine.

In Comal County alone, the uninsured working poor number about 16,000, according to Malatek. In the last few months of 2008, the clinic served more than 800 patients. As word is spreading, the clinic has gotten more popular, having served the same number is the first six weeks of 2009.

“Our goal is to become a medical home for people who are caught in the middle and don’t have the opportunity to have health insurance or have government funded programs for whatever reason,” Malatek said. “We’re really serving, for a lack of a better term, the working poor who are caught in the middle. This can become their medical home so they can stay healthy, stay at work and stay in school.”

The clinic was birthed out of Oakwood Baptist Church, and while other congregations have come along to help, Oakwood remains the clinic’s primary financial supporter and source of volunteers. The off-campus clinic, coupled with a counseling center and children’s afterschool program, is one of the ways the church remains committed to caring for its community, one of the pillars of Texas Hope 2010, a Baptist General Convention of Texas initiative to share the hope of Christ with every Texan.

“We just thought if you can care about somebody and show them you’re concerned about them, you certainly have a lot better opportunity to share the gospel and let them see Christ in that manner. Our people have really enjoyed that,” said Roxi Vanstory, Oakwood’s executive administrator, who believes many communities could use a clinic like the one in New Braunfels.

Beverly Baldwin, an Oakwood member and retired registered nurse who volunteers at the clinic, said she enjoys serving the patients. She’s gotten the opportunity to build relationships with some of them, which has led to opportunities for her to pray with them and share her faith.

“I especially enjoy working with the patients,” she said. “I get to see some of the patients more than once. I get to work with them one-on-one, which is what I missed.”

Where they see a need, Oakwood members want to meet it, Vanstory said. “They want to get their hands dirty to do the work of the Lord.”

As a result of the church’s commitment to outreach, people are becoming healthy, children are doing better in school and lives are being transformed by the power of Christ. There’s much more to do, Vanstory said, and the church is following God’s call to do all that it can.

“We want to be an integral part of our community,” she said.

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