By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Tree of Life Free Clinic continues to see the need for medical mission care grow.
In three years, the clinic – inspired by the foreign medical mission work of several local physicians and nurses – has seen more than 7,000 patients and filled 30,000 prescriptions, said Dr. Joe Bailey, founder and board president. Volunteer physicians and nurse practitioners see patients twice a month at the 541 W. Main St. clinic in Tupelo.
“Now we’re averaging about 250 patients a month,” not including the dental patients, Bailey said.
The clinic began offering basic dental care – primarily extractions of teeth that couldn’t be restored – in the spring. Since they, they’ve pulled nearly 700 teeth for 260 patients.
“With exams, X-rays, acute care and the dental surgeries, we have performed over $100,000 worth of dental care,” said Tupelo dentist Mindy Austin, who with dentist Dr. Beth Shelton, heads up the clinic’s dental efforts. “We have seen many patients who have made multiple trips to the ER, who could not afford to follow up with a dental provider due to financial strains. … We are making a huge difference.”
About $94,000 of the clinic’s $102,000 annual budget goes to medications. The clinic has to cover some supplies, an annual audit and liability insurance.
The benefits to individuals and the community are real, Bailey said.
“We’ve had patients we have been able to go back to work,” because their high blood pressure and diabetes have been stabilized, he said. “I know we’ve prevented heart attacks; I know we’ve prevented strokes,” Bailey said. “I know we’ve kept people out of the ER at lots of hospitals, especially North Mississippi Medical Center.”
The community has been tremendously supportive of the Tree of Life, Bailey said. Calvary Baptist Church provides the clinic building and covers the utilities. First Methodist, St. James Catholic and All Saints’ Episcopal churches also provide substantial support.
A $20,000 grant from Toyota assisted with medicine. Zip Scrips allows the clinic to purchase medications at wholesale cost. Gilmore Regional Medical Center has been supportive with materials and providing care for a handful of patients who needed surgical care. North Mississippi Medical Center’s pathology department has assisted with lab tests.
A core group of about a dozen physicians and nurse practitioners, and another 11 dentists, backed by an group of specialized and lay volunteers make the clinic operate.
“We would like to have even more,” Bailey said.