BY LEANN DILBECK –
The Ninth Street Ministries – Medical Care Services Division only – has announced that after serving its community for over 15 years, it will no longer provide services as of April 24, 2014, and as the administrators explain through heavy hearts, “The mission is complete.”
The current Clinic Director, Stacey Bowser, explained there were many mixed emotions involved in the decision but said overall, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the need is no longer present – the patients that the ministry opened for are now being served.
The medical clinic served those found in the gap: Polk County citizens who were unable to obtain insurance but not eligible to receive Medicare or Medicaid. In January, Bowser explained, the clinic saw between 80 and 90 patients, dropping to 14 in February and only 3 in March.
An outreach ministry of the First Baptist Church, the free medical clinic officially opened its doors in a small refurbished home at 306 Ninth Street on June 20, 1998. All involved are very quick to give credit to the vision of one man, Dr. Rick Lochala, who possesses a strong passion for missionary work and recognized the need right here in his own community. He describes the closure as ‘bitter-sweet,’
“It’s like having your kids leave home and go to school or get married… it is sad that I am not needed but it is a good thing for them. So it is a bitter-sweet time for us. I am so thankful that we were able to serve the Lord by serving these people for the time we have. We will just look for other opportunities to serve.”
Lochala, responsible for writing the mission statement which captures the heart of the program, also served as the clinic’s Medical Director. The mission statement read: “In following the example of Christ, the Ninth Street Ministries Free Medical Clinic, seeing the need for medical care for the under-served, desires to minister to those people who have no insurance or do not have the means to acquire and maintain medical care.”
The clinic grew rapidly in patients as well as support from other area churches and the community. On June 22, 2008, one decade later from its opening, the ministry moved into the now modern building located on the corner of Ninth Street and Church Avenue. The new building offered a well-organized clinic, featuring examining rooms, pharmacy, private rooms for interviewing new patients, order and distribution of medications, and an organized space for the distribution of personal care items. The clinic shared the front room, which also serves as a waiting for the clinic, and a dining room for the Feeding Ministry.
The free clinic became a beacon of “help, hope, and love” in its community and its absence will certainly be felt by many as it offered much more than just free medical care and medicines to its patients. It has always been staffed entirely by dedicated volunteers.
Bowser, who has been volunteering since 2009, credits the clinic’s founders, Dr. Lochala, Bill and Katy Plunkett, Erma Mize, and the church for bathing the mission in prayer, as the reason for the large-scale impact the clinic has had on the local community.
Comparing it to successful projects in the mission field, Bowser said there is no need anymore. She said she feels very blessed to have fallen into her position and also explained that she knows she speaks for everyone when she says how greatly they all will miss the patients and the opportunity afforded to them through the church to provide help, hope, and love to those in need. She reiterated that all of the other ministries provided through Ninth Street will remain in place and the closure is for the free medical clinic only.