Free health clinic assists dozens of uninsured in Batesville

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – A Batesville mother has turned her struggle to afford health care into a low-cost medical service for other uninsured adults.

Kari Jones, a mother of four, started the Christian Health Center of Batesville two years ago because she wanted to fill a need that she once had.

"I was of the personality that just start it, and they'll come because I know there's that need," Jones said. "I lived that need."

Jones became a stay-at-home mom after the birth of her third child. She left behind a job with health insurance and, shortly thereafter, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Jones says no insurance company would touch her because of her preexisting condition.

"And so I went nine years without health insurance, and I got really, really, really sick," Jones said. "When you're a mom, you're supposed to be indestructible."

As her health declined, she finally decided to go to a clinic for the uninsured in Heber Springs. She vowed that day to open a similar clinic in her hometown. Eighteen months later, she says the doors opened to the Christian Health Center of Batesville.

A team of about 30 volunteers now meets on the first and third Thursday each month at the Believers Community Church in Batesville. The sanctuary is turned into a waiting room for more than 50 uninsured people living below the poverty line. They wait to see doctors or nurses  who have donated their time, or they can fill their prescriptions in a converted Sunday school room.

The non-profit clinic charges people $8 to visit the doctor and $5 to fill up to 10 prescriptions. The fees allow the clinic to mainly purchase medications to store in their makeshift pharmacy, but patients say the charges are nominal in comparison to what they would pay anywhere else.

"The first thing you hesitate with is money – money, money or insurance," Shirley Lisenby of Cave City said. "If you don't have either, this place helps you regardless."

Lisenby fought back tears Thursday talking about her appreciation for the clinic. She credits its volunteers for saving her life.

"I truly believe if I had not come to this place, whether in Texas or here, I'd have ended up with a massive heart attack and died," Lisenby explained, "because I didn't know how serious my underlying condition was."

She first came to the clinic in October 2011. She paid $8 to see a doctor, who revealed some serious medical problems. Two weeks later, she underwent a triple bypass surgery.

"I was really bad off health-wise when I came here," Lisenby said. "And, now that I've been here, I'm doing so much better. It means something to you when you come see someone that you barely know, and they feel for you so much they give you a kiss on the head."

Experiences like these drive Jones to expand the clinic's operations. On Tuesday she finalized the purchase of a new building in Batesville. The facility needs costly upgrades, though, to add exam rooms, a dental and counseling space, a pharmacy and a lab. Jones says relocating will create even more community support.

"When we get into our space, when people see us and see that it's a clinic – it's not the Believers Community Church's, it's the Christian Health Center, and it's for the people – I have to believe that they're going to support us," she said.

To learn more about the clinic or to donate time or money, click here.

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