STEUBENVILLE - There were no balloons or stickers for Frances Thorn last week.
Just a sincere hug from Ann Quillen, executive director of the Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center, when Thorn walked into the free clinic marking the 10,000th patient visit in the facility's nearly seven-year history.
"I moved to Steubenville from California about five years ago. My husband and I have no health insurance and I have several health issues. I didn't know about the health center until a friend told me about the clinic, and thank goodness it is here. I can get help with my prescriptions and my checkups," explained the 54-year-old Thorn.
A SPECIAL PATIENT — Frances Thorn, left, walked into the Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center last week marking the 10,000th patient to visit in the facility’s nearly seven-year history. Thorn was greeted with a smile and a hug from the health center’s Executive Director Ann Quillen. - Dave Gossett
"Francis is a typical patient who comes to the health center. Her husband works so they don't qualify for assistance with their medical insurance. So they are caught in the middle like many of our other patients," said Quillen.
Joan Piatt, a volunteer registered nurse, checked Thorn's blood pressure and blood sugar level before moving her to an exam room and nurse practitioner Katie Gesto.
"I use insulin and have to test myself. And the insulin and test strips add up in a short period of time. It can be so overwhelming with the cost of my medication. If the health center wasn't here I really don't know what I would do. I know I wouldn't be healthy. This center is heaven sent for me and many others. I was originally reluctant to come here, but Ann and the staff make me feel so welcome. I love Miss Ann. She and the people here have really helped me. They are also like therapists and social workers because they put me in touch with agencies and other medical providers," said Thorn.
"No one makes me feel like I shouldn't be here. They talk to me and when my blood sugar is off they help me. And I have gotten a lot of patient education about diabetes. I have started walking again. Ann does a lot of talking with me and has gotten me thinking about my health," continued Thorn.
"It is encouraging to hear the stories from our patients on how we have positively impacted their lives," said Quillen.
"If I ever won a million dollars I would give a lot of it to this health center. They help so many people without insurance. I come here to get checked every three months and will call if I have an issue," noted Thorn.
The Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center opened its doors in a former dinette on North Fourth Street on March 13, 2006.
According to Diann Schmitt, clinic coordinator of the health center in 2006, "the uninsured would either go to the emergency room and then receive a bill they couldn't pay or they would try to medically treat themselves with medicine from someone in their family. They were very limited in their medical options.
"We operated on local donations. We applied for federal, state or local grants or officials funds," Schmitt said shortly after the clinic began operations.
Quillen was named executive director of the health center in September 2008 after Schmitt left for a position with Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Quillen has continued to start her days at the health center with a walk around the facility and a prayer.
The executive director of the health center prays "that we do good work here" and she prays for more volunteers at the free clinic.
"We see thousands of hours of volunteer service at the health center every year, and the need for volunteers continues to grow. That includes doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, other medical staff, office workers, students studying in a variety of medical fields, general volunteers who help take care of mowing the grass and planting the flower beds. We have students that come weekly from School of Bright Promise to clean the office. We have had church groups come to paint and Boy Scouts have come to mop and wax the floors," cited Quillen.
She noted the volunteer time would easily equal "well over $150,000. That's why our volunteers are so welcomed and appreciated."
But she is still looking for more volunteers to help the health center to expand its hours and its locations.
"We have the programs in place. We just need the providers to help us to improve our services and to make the center more available to the uninsured residents of Jefferson County," noted Quillen.
Gesto of Steubenville is one of the regular volunteers and on Thursday visited with Thorn in an exam room.
"How are you feeling today?" Gesto asked Thorn.
"I work at a nurse practitioner in Pittsburgh four days a week and there are times I will forget and maybe just don't want to come here on my day off. But when I come in here and see how grateful the patients are, it is so rewarding. What a joy it is to help someone who may be struggling with high blood pressure or diabetes," explained Gesto.
"There is also an opportunity to pray with a patient. I take the more holistic approach. And this is a chance for me to give back to the community I live in. I see some of my patients at the store and we chat. This is a rewarding experience and I know if more medical providers just volunteered two hours a month they would come back and realize the same rewards," said Gesto.
"I know our staff here is passionate about our patients and what we do here. No one is working here to get rich. They are here because they want to help others," observed Quillen.
The Fourth Street Health Center opened its first satellite clinic on Nov. 3, 2011, in Mount Pleasant.
"We provide basic health care and care for patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and COPD. We also assist patients with Prescription Assistance Program applications, and we can refer patients to other medical providers," Quillen said.
Earlier the year the Greek Orthodox Foundation at the Holy Trinity Greek Church formally donated a former medical office building to the health center.
"This is major for us. We have become very tight in our current building. This donation will allow us to expand and add the dental clinic and pharmacy to our operations as well as expanding our medical facilities," Quillen said in May.
"We have realized the need for a dental clinic for a long time. But we began seriously discussing how to set up a dental clinic for the past three years," said Quillen.
"We have a consultant in place who has written five different plans for the future of the health center that includes medical care, mental health care in partnership with the Jefferson Behavorial Center, a pharmacy and dental clinic. And we are looking at a larger facility for the health center. The need for quality free health care in Jefferson County continues to grow. We need to be prepared. We want to expand our services to those in need," stated Quillen.
And as Thorn prepared to leave the health center, she said she will continue coming "as long as I am able. They help me here, and I appreciate the health center and everything the staff does for me."