Dr. Chapin Henley’s Story

Shortly after I retired, I was exercising on a treadmill reading an article in Newsweek magazine. The title was ‘What have you done for someone today?’ It was about a volunteer clinic at Hilton Head for working uninsured people who fell through the cracks in our healthcare system. It dawned on me that there were bound to be hardworking people in Macon who fit this description.

I began searching on the internet for data about starting such a clinic, and I found a plethora of information. Also I found that there was an existing clinic like this in Savannah, six clinics in Atlanta, and one clinic in the process of forming in Brunswick. The volunteer clinic at Hilton Head had so many inquiries that they created an additional organization next door solely for the purpose of helping to start new clinics. I visited Hilton Head. Their support organization had extensive literature and planning information. They had professional organizers who would pay a visit, work with volunteers, and do presentations to the public. They only charged for the organizers’ transportation and housing.

So, we flew a med school professor in from New England for two days and had a public meeting at Macon’s Martha Bowman Church one night; we had previously run an ad inviting the public to the meeting. About 60 folks came. There was immediate enthusiasm. We asked for volunteers from this group to come together and brainstorm how to start this venture, thus a steering committee formed. One member was Carol Salami-Goswick who had previously worked in welfare in San Francisco. She was a major energy source for this project. Our steering committee met quite often for over a year, as our dream began to become reality.

The late Pat Creamer was at the original meeting, and when the presenter finished she asked for comments and thoughts. Pat, a retired Marine who with his son ran a computer maintenance business, stood up and said that he and his son were going to supply computers and maintenance free for the clinic when it started!

Then Ann Jobe, Dean of Mercer Medical School, talked about how service to the people is vital in the education of medical students. And how important it is to have something like a clinic to blend the energies of the academic, the medical, the churches, the community together.

Dean Ann referred me to Dr. Mary W. Mathis in Mercer’s graduate school to help us gather information about Macon and determine if there was a need for the clinic. She researched the issue in depth and provided us with firm statistics. She targeted low income, uninsured workers. Where did they live? Did they have transportation? Family size? Etc. She was so awesome in helping us that I renamed her Mary Wonderful Mathis.

Then there was the doctor who had graduated from Mercer Medical School and was working in a doc-in-a-box in Warner Robins. Her mother in Tennille, Georgia, cut the article about the clinic out of the newspaper and sent it to her doctor daughter, along with a message like, ‘Isn’t this is what you have always wanted to do?’ This fine physician, Lynn Denny, became extremely active in the ‘digging’ work and generously poured her heart into the making of the clinic. When the clinic opened, I served as Medical Director in order to avoid the initial expense of a doctor’s salary. After the first few months of the clinic’s life, I called Lynn and asked her if she would consider working as part time Medical Director for the clinic at a pauper’s salary–and she took it! Late one afternoon a few months later, I found Lynn working on charts in the clinic alone. I told her she was only hired for 20 hours a week. She replied, simply, ‘You can’t tell me what to do with my free time.’

The clinic is truly a mission.

Dick VanBuren, a retired Kaolin executive, helped us write some of our early grant applications. We ran an ad for an Executive Director and had a committee to interview the applicants. Dick told us that he had a neighbor who had taken early retirement from a home health organization. She was looking around for something to do and had applied to work with Meals on Wheels. He suggested she apply for the clinic job. When Valerie Biskey came for the interview, we found she was a retired Bird Colonel from the Army Nursing Corps. Doctorate in Nursing, she had been a head nurse at Walter Reid, Bronze Star from Vietnam (Mash Unit Nursing Supervisor). I told her that she was overqualified for the job; the clinic could not afford this six-figure salaried executive. Her reply, ‘There comes a time in life when it is time to give back.’ Which she did in full force until she died.

At our public information forums, the most inquisitive and cautious person present was Dr. John O’Shaughnessey. He soon came around to believing it just might work, and ten years later, he is still practicing at the clinic. He and Dr. Patrick Roche and I were the founding members. Patrick is an altruistic family practitioner who is a Professor at Mercer Medical School. Parenthetically, Patrick is off on a Rotary Medical Mission to Turkey. He spent six months on sabbatical in the mountains of Haiti year before last.

Attorney Kirby Moore wrote our original bylaws —so we could get 501C-3 status.

The summer before there was a clinic or a building, Gena Franklin wrote a request for a grant from Peyton Anderson. We had first gone to see Juanita Jordan (at Peyton Anderson) and she had seemed quite excited to help. In mid August about 5 o’clock one evening, Juanita called me and asked how the plans for the clinic were going. I told her we were still scratching around. She asked if $250,000 would help to get it started! The rest is history.

Charlie Dunn (retired ATT international) and I looked all over Macon for a site. John Hiscox (Macon Housing Authority) offered us a duplex in one of the housing projects with no rent, no utilities and free garbage service, but the committee decided that the clientele in the projects were Medicare and Medicaid primarily. Also, people on one project would not go into another project.

I then went to the head of HCA Mike Boggs and asked about office space. He offered two possibilities, Rogers Avenue (formerly Dr. Schwartz’s pediatric practice) and an old office across the street from the Ronald McDonald House. We looked at them and decided that the Rogers location could work; it was the right demographic and on the bus line. HCA said we could have the two offices on Rogers for $1 a year if we maintained the interior. HCA lawyers required the clinic to have a representative on our board (and also one from the Medical Center).

Then the real excitement started! People came out of the woodwork to give to the cause. It was amazing the number of folks who stepped up to the plate and offered their time and their services at either cost or pro bono. Architect Daly Smith sketched out a plan to rearrange the two offices in the Rogers Avenue building into one. Contractor Warren Selby came out to look at the situation. He said that since it was rainy season and he could not start a church in Gray for a while, he had a crew who could work on the clinic and do this wall moving if we would provide the wood. We did and he did! Bryant Pyles (Pyles Plumbing) sent in a plumbing crew. We hired an electrician and a painter. We got scrap carpet from a dealer. Conditioned Air did the AC, and a wholesaler sold us one AC unit at cost. The Medical Center was replacing an old X-ray machine; they gave it to us. Merrill Lynch was moving its office and gave us their old phone system. A guy who was doing security for Mercer installed our security system.

Oral Surgeon Skeet McCurdy was closing his offices and gave us dental chairs and dental x-ray. Dentist Jimmy Cassidy gave us a dental chair. All of our exam tables were donated from various offices. Occupational Medicine donated artwork when two of its offices merged. Cox Communications gave us our first laptop when they recycled. Valerie spoke to our Rotary Club and mentioned a list of things the clinic needed, one being a shredder. Macon Iron has provided us with shredding services since. The list goes on and on. The funeral home keeps us in Styrofoam cups. The refrigerator is from the old Middle Georgia Hospital. The kitchenette is recycled from Rebuilding Macon (as are a lot of the solid doors on the west side of the clinic).

Our furniture came out of Macon Northside Hospital warehouse and Middle Georgia Hospital when it closed, and the Medical Center also donated furniture. We got old desks from Tred Shurling and a couple of local doctors. Middle Georgia Pharmacy gave us shelving. A kind and caring local resident wrote us a $25,000 check after hearing about the clinic in his Sunday school class at Vineville Methodist. Ramona Sheridan and her husband Chris (contractor) provided the security screen on the front windows and doors after people kept breaking the glass out to steal the TV in the waiting room.

Initially, Sally and I did all of the bookkeeping from our office at home. We still have the plastic boxes of files! Valerie also began working for the clinic on a computer at her home because the clinic was under construction. We opened the clinic with four employees. In addition to Valerie, who also served as Nursing Director, Julie Wilkerson was hired. She was Development Director, and she was fantastic. We hired a receptionist and a housekeeper–and we were off and rolling.”

And, the rest, as they say, is history!