A 2002 medical mission trip to Reynosa, Mexico, forever changed family practice physician Rob Rhodes, MD, and his perspective on medical needs at home. The trip led to wonderful things, including Clinic with a Heart, which serves uninsured and underinsured patients in Lincoln, NE; and, Rob’s recognition as one of “50 Heroes, 50 States” by MONEY magazine.
When Rob joined the mission trip, organized by the church he attended, he didn’t know what to expect. “Two other physicians who had planned to make the trip cancelled, so I was a little worried about what I was getting into,” he said. “What I found in Reynosa was a huge need for medical attention for people who, quite literally, lived in a dump. There was a little clinic, but it had no electricity, there were no medical records, there just wasn’t much at all. We worked hard every day for as long as we could, using car headlights to light the clinic after it got dark. We saw about 200 patients a day and wished we could have seen more.”
Back in Lincoln, Rob, who is on the medical staff at CHI Health St. Elizabeth, took a fresh look at health needs in the community. “Of course, I knew there were people who slipped between the cracks in the health care system,” he said. “At the time, the city didn’t have a free health center. I decided to start one, and I was so invigorated! But, it was difficult to get people to support something that didn’t exist yet. I became discouraged, and told my pastor I wasn’t sure if I should continue. He told me, ‘Of course you should. You have to. Run toward the light!’”
In May 2003, with the support of 30 medical and non-medical volunteers, Rob opened Clinic with a Heart in Lincoln. Today, four full-time employees and more than 700 volunteers staff the walk-in free clinic, which is open every Tuesday and Thursday evening. The volunteers provide medical, dental, chiropractic, physical therapy, behavioral health, hearing and spiritual care to nearly 4,000 people each year. Since its inception, the clinic has seen more than 21,000 people.
“Clinic with a Heart isn’t able to serve as a medical home,” said Rob. “Instead, it is an entry point for patients who need care and don’t have insurance, don’t have the money to pay out of pocket, or simply don’t know where to go to get help.”
The clinic welcomes people from many places and backgrounds. “We have people who are homeless; discharged prisoners; refugees who have been relocated to the U.S., who tend to have significant dental health needs; single moms who need care for themselves and their children; and professionals who are experiencing hard times due to the loss of their jobs, to name a few,” said Rob. “We help everyone who comes to our door; we really don’t have any requirements. They may need to be willing to wait in line for a while, and if they are, we will treat them and help them find a medical home for continuing care.”