When the Pine Street Free Clinic in Conway, AR, opens its doors at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, it welcomes people with no income or low income and no health insurance. “The clinic is not here to give handout charity,” said Mary Beard, RN, the clinic’s executive director. “We are centered on the belief that citizens who work at being a productive part of society should not be denied ordinary medical care. Our patients are indigent, but they make a sincere effort to help themselves and their families.”
The clinic first opened in December 2002 as the realization of Mary’s vision. “I was born in Conway, approximately four blocks from the clinic’s current location,” she said. “My folks moved to California when I was four years old. After many years as a nurse in California, I returned to Conway with this dream to start a free clinic. I also wanted to be able to eventually retire from a Catholic health setting, and St. Vincent was my hospital of choice.”
Mary recruited William Rutledge, MD, to serve as the clinic’s medical director. Through the years, she has recruited a variety of physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, technicians, administrative support staff and students pursuing medical careers to volunteer some time in the clinic. “I’m very good at begging for help,” she said.
The clinic offers a variety of services each month on a rotating schedule. The first Tuesday of the month is devoted to orthopedic appointments; the second to medical appointments; and the third to podiatry. “People come from some distance away to see our orthopedic surgeon,” Mary said. “We also help a lot of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes. The podiatry appointments are important for them.”
The Pine Street Free Clinic first operated in the gymnasium of the Greater Pleasant Branch Baptist Church, but now has its own building in Conway. “On a day that had been a difficult day, something told me to go take a little drive,” said Mary. “I drove to the corner, turned right and drove two blocks, then turned left – and saw the perfect building for the clinic. I bought it, and now the clinic has a permanent home.”
The clinic currently sees about 650 patients a year, many of them just once. However, the clinic is a medical home for more than 200 patients who return from year to year for physical exams and lab work. The clinic maintains electronic records for its patients that can be transferred to other care providers.
“We constantly help our patients access other sources of care,” said Mary. “We use all the resources available through the state, the University of Arkansas, pharmaceutical assistance programs and more. I tell our patients that there is always care available to the uninsured – you just need to know how to access it.”
Mary recalled one patient, a young man with a gunshot wound to the stomach. “His mother had no insurance and was so upset, thinking that her son wouldn’t get the care he needed,” Mary said. “I told her that Arkansas, like many states, has a victim’s rights program that covers treatment expenses for victims of violent crimes. She was so grateful.
“As a nurse, I love putting all the pieces together and finding solutions to peoples’ needs,” Mary added. “God is good. So many ideas come to me.”