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News Room: ENQUIRER: NKY nurses opening free clinic service

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By: Terry DeMio

The freshly painted, little room in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newport is a modest one – but with a big future.

Realizing the dream of a group of nurses, it is about to become a free clinic to serve the poor.

“I almost have to pinch myself,” said Tracy Hagood, a nurse with St. Elizabeth Healthcare Fort Thomas.

Hagood and her colleagues tried to imagine such a clinic after volunteering at St. Paul’s Food Pantry, almost on a whim.

Hagood had been asked by a friend last April to help at the pantry. “It was very last-minute. As a matter of fact, I almost did not go,” she said.

She went, though, and as she did her small job there, she started seeing a gaping need she could not overlook.

“I could not believe that so many people needed assistance – right here in our backyard,” Hagood said.

“I decided to get involved.”

St. Paul’s Food Pantry serves about 300 families per month and has about 450 families on its records for food assistance, according to church Deacon Tom Runge.

Hagood noticed the pantry never seemed to have enough hygiene supplies – an needed commodity for the poor, who cannot purchase soap, washcloths, toilet paper, toothpaste or brushes, feminine hygiene products, diapers and more with food stamps.

Hagood turned to her St. Elizabeth nurse manager, Lisa Bowman, with her concern. Her first reaction was to volunteer at the pantry, too.

Bowman also encouraged their department, the transitional care unit, known as TCU, to gather personal-care items to donate to the pantry. Word spread to the radiology department; then to the cardiac cath lab. It seemed everyone wanted to help.

“They each have their own bins here,” Runge said. “They bring these items by the basketful.”

Meanwhile, TCU nurses continued volunteering at the pantry, and the need for health care there became more obvious.

“It seemed like every week we were encountering a few people who had some kind of health issue or problem,” Hagood said.

One day, a patron dropped and had a seizure.

Another day, a man needed advice following a surgery.

Once, a woman came in frantic. She had found a lump in her breast, and Runge asked Hagood to talk with her.

Runge, whom they trust, seemed to have his hands full at every moment.

“A lot of the guests would approach me, not only for spiritual guidance, but also for their health needs,” he said.

Hagood said she felt privileged to help.

“Sometimes they just needed to cry. They just needed you to hold their hand,” Hagood said.

Before long, the TCU nurses decided they had to do something more than donating time and hygiene items to the pantry. They formed a Community Care Outreach Committee and gradually came to their conclusion: St. Paul’s guests needed a free screening clinic.

St. Elizabeth’s Health Ministries learned of the nurses’ goal and extended assistance, surprising the nurses who were unaware how far their story of the clinic had spread.

“I had no idea we had anyone in that capacity,” Hagood said.

“It was really, really a ‘wow’ factor for them,” Feagan said.

But helping the nurses with their project was a natural fit for the Health Ministries.

“Community outreach is one of the things we are called to do,” Feagan said.

Health Care Ministries is providing essential training, screening supplies and other items the nurses will need to serve their new patients.

Runge said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Matthew Young, and church leadership had always wanted to extend their outreach, so they were right on board.

The church set aside the little room and this year will use a fraction of the pantry’s budget to provide some supplies for the clinic. Next year, Runge said, the clinic will have its own budget.

“The enthusiasm of Tracy and the other nurses – we caught it,” Runge said. “It took off.”

Church officials. nurses and others will join Wednesday for a “dry run” of the clinic. The opening day is set for March 20, with appointment hours coinciding with the food pantry – so families can do both at the same time.

The nurses will provide blood-pressure and blood-glucose screenings, educational counseling, supply hygiene gifts, connect clients to community resources and get people to a hospital, if they need it.

More than 20 nurses have committed to volunteering.

“We dared to dream,” Hagood said. “Sometimes I think, how in the world did this happen?”

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