Health clinic to serve Harrisburg neighborhood

With help from the city government and some of the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood's unspent campaign funds, Harrisburg will soon have a neighborhood walk-in clinic for under- and uninsured residents, allowing them to keep up with their health and hopefully keep them out of emergency rooms for minor ailments.

Neither Gloria Norwood nor her late husband ever lived in Harrisburg or have roots there. But she's nonetheless been drawn to the cause of turning around the poverty-ridden neighborhood. For the past year and a half she has been volunteering with St. Luke United Methodist Church's girls choir and Harrisburg Sisterhood, programs that get middle school-age girls off the streets.

"I really feel like God has put it in my heart to be active in this community, to the extent that I can be," said Mrs. Norwood, who was steered to St. Luke's by a friend in her Sunday school class at Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist.

Now Mrs. Norwood and Marsha Jones, St. Luke's music and outreach director, are embarking on their next mission: the Harrisburg Family Healthcare Clinic, scheduled to open Sept. 2 in the front section of the Hobart Sales and Service restaurant equipment building at Crawford Avenue and Hicks Street.

Building owner Owen Nine is letting the clinic use about a third of the building free of charge. Six months ago, it was warehouse space with concrete floors and concrete block walls, but it has since been converted into a medical clinic with a triage area, two exam rooms, two offices and a classroom/conference room. The renovations cost about $40,000 -- $25,000 of which came from Mr. Norwood's campaign war chest, monies which legally have to be given to charitable causes -- along with donated labor and materials.

On Tuesday the Augusta Commission approved routing $25,000 in contingency funds to the clinic's start-up operations, a move pushed by Commissioner Jerry Brigham.

Working with the girls at St. Luke's, Mrs. Jones said she got bothered hearing them tell of trips to emergency rooms for earaches and colds.

She and Mrs. Norwood thought the Hobart building would be an ideal place for a clinic, so they formed a nonprofit, Good Neighbor Ministries, to make it happen.

"From the church's point of view, healing is a very important way to communicate the love of Christ," Mrs. Jones said.

Michael Shaffer, who was once a district director for Mr. Norwood and later a spokesman for the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, is serving as the clinic's executive director.

He said the plan is to have one doctor and one nurse practitioner on staff, possibly on a rotating basis. Operations will take ongoing fundraising, and the clinic has a verbal commitment for assistance from University Hospital, he said.

The clinic will offer primary care and be open for four hours per day on Wednesdays and Thursdays only, Mr. Shaffer said. Patients could get physicals and flu shots there and be seen for minor problems such as chest pains, back pains, coughs and fevers.

"The idea is to give the people of Harrisburg the same experience that you or I would have if we went into a doctor's office," Mr. Shaffer said.

If something requires a specialist, a patient could be referred through Project Access, where doctors donate services to the indigent and uninsured. Another service will be education -- classes on diabetes, blood pressure, exercise, diet and prenatal care -- helping to break cycles of obesity and teenage pregnancy, Mr. Shaffer said.

The clinic will not be free. Patients would pay on a sliding scale, probably about $15 per visit.

"One way a person maintains their dignity is to be expected to contribute," Mrs. Jones said.

"Don't get me wrong," Mr. Shaffer said. "If somebody walked through the door and didn't have a penny, they're not gonna' get turned back out."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

TO DONATE

To make a donation to Good Neighbor Ministries for the Harrisburg Family Healthcare Clinic, contact Executive Director Michael Shaffer at (706) 533-0983, or m.shaffer@me.com.

OTHER HARRISBURG DEVELOPMENTS

A planned protest outside the Forest Hills home of a Harrisburg landlord has been called off, but activists are holding the Aug. 8 date for picketing another property owner.

Organizer Lori Davis said John B. Weigle Jr., who owns 223 Eve St., one of three properties targeted as a "nuisance" during a Fourth of July march against absentee landlords and drug peddling, has agreed to a meeting.

"Right now, they're willing to negotiate, and we're going on to the next person," she said. "It's a victory."

Mrs. Davis said the next target will likely be the owners of 1841 Watkins St., Emory and Rachel Rabitsch, who live in Evans. Mr. Rabitsch maintains that his tenants are good people who keep up with their rent payments, and he's not willing to evict them because they have friends over or because a man was arrested for having a small amount of marijuana there last week.

"That's fine. Let them do it," Mr. Rabitsch said of a demonstration. "They're not gonna' dictate how I run my business."