GALLIPOLIS — With well over 1.5 million uninsured residents in the state of Ohio, there lies an often unspoken but great need for free or inexpensive medical care — especially among rural, often underserved communities. In 2009, a local but worldly professor pitched an idea to a longtime local doctor and medical missionary to develop a plan to provide such a service right here in Gallia County.
Yesterday, the French 500 Free Clinic celebrated its third successful year with an open house celebration that honored the many who have helped make that dream of community service a reality — an accomplishment emphasized when the staff helped the Clinic’s one-thousandth patient just an hour before the event began.
The concept of a free clinic for uninsured Gallia Countians came when, in early 2009, University of Rio Grande professor Paul Sebastian relayed the idea to Dr. Mel Simon when he was preparing for his annual medical mission to his native country — the Phillipine Islands. Simon has organized 29 such missions since 1985.
According to Sebastian, Simon took a lead in driving the project and contacted friends, Rotarians and other volunteers in an effort to get organized. The group elected officers, formed committees and established bylaws, and under the direction of Shirley Doss, obtained official nonprofit status.
The French 500 Free Clinic was opened in August 2009, with the support of community donations, in the former office of Dr. Tess Simon, at its current location on Hillcrest Drive. That office space was generously provided free of charge through the generosity of Dr. Mel and Lydia Simon, who own the building.
The Clinic’s mission is clear: to provide comprehensive medical care at no cost to 18 years or older uninsured patients in Gallia County.
The event held Thursday served as a way for Simon to recognize all of the many volunteers who helped get the ambitious project off the ground. It also served as a springboard for the nonprofit into its future — and Simon and the French 500 Board have a very clear vision for it.
“Vision is the gift of seeing clearly what may be. The more we see, the more we can achieve,” said Simon. “The grander our vision, the more glorious our accomplishment.”
Simon said his vision for the free clinic includes three main goals:
• For it to be able to sustain itself physically and financially in order to continue its humanitarian goal and endeavor to help the sick and uninsured.
• To add more clinic days and ancillary services in order to efficiently use its facility.
• To add more volunteer physicians and personnel.
“The heart of our mission and its operations is the doctors and nurses who assist them,” said Sebastian, “but Doctors Mel Simon, Dick Simpson, Nabil Fahmy, Jimmy Nuggud and Reid Brubaker have been particularly faithful.”
He also named Dr. Jolie Bitner and Dr. Thomas Blodgett as partners, and praised the many nurses who support the volunteer effort month after month.
“At each session, we treat as many as 46 patients and an average of 28 patients,” said Sebastian. “We would like to expand and be open once a week instead of once a month, but that depends upon community support in donations and demand for our services.”
“Most of all, we need more doctors to volunteer, whether active or retired,” he added.
The free clinic is open on the last Thursday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m., excluding holidays and inclement weather severe enough to close area schools. The French 500 Free Clinic is located at 258 Pinecrest Road, Gallipolis. Fore more information, call 740-446-0023 or email email@example.com.