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Mission remains the same

Health center marks 15 years, mortgage burning

MORTGAGE BURNING – A mortgage-burning ceremony was part of the 15th anniversary celebration Tuesday for the Ohio Valley Health Center at 423 South St., Steubenville, where gathering for the symbolic gesture signifying no indebtedness were, clockwise, from left, Patricia Fletcher, Mark Judy, Frank Rogers, Chris Orris, board Chairman Tony Mougianis, medical director Dr. Charn Nandra, James DeMaria, Cookie West, Dr. Richard Antinone and Bob Gribben. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — Ann Quillen, executive director of the Ohio Valley Health Center, smiled when she spotted Patti West in the audience of the center’s 15-year anniversary celebration and mortgage-burning ceremony held Tuesday outside the state-of-the-art facility at 423 South St.

“On our opening day of patient care more than 15 years ago, Dr. Matt Colflesh saw our very first patient – Patti West,” Quillen gestured toward the Steubenville woman.

“Patti represents the typical patient in our health center — a woman who maybe has lost her spouse, is uninsured and isn’t old enough to get Medicare, but she needs medical attention, and what a gift that we can provide that care,” Quillen said from a podium she shared with Tony Mougianis, the center’s board chairman.

Mougianis welcomed the group of about 100, noting, “Today is a culmination of many, many hours of volunteerism, many hours of dedication, blood, sweat and tears to be able to have this opportunity to burn our mortgage together.”

The duo offered perspective, praise and expressions of gratitude for a center that has had different locations, boards of directors, volunteers, providers and even a different name from its original Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center, a switch to better reflect the scope of its mission field.

But what hasn’t changed, the two reiterated throughout, is the center’s mission — “to provide high-quality health care to the medically uninsured and underinsured families of the Ohio Valley regardless of their ability to pay.”

The center opened in 2006 on Fourth Street in a building donated by Urban Mission, but water damage there necessitated a move to space donated by Trinity Health System. There for several years, the center ultimately opened in “this wonderful, new permanent home following a successful capital campaign with many generous donors and built at cost by Grae-Con Construction,” noted Quillen, who was the center’s second executive director for seven and a half years, following in the footsteps of Diann Schmitt. Trudy Wilson served for four years, starting in 2016. Quillen returned in 2020.

Presidents of the board of directors through the years, aside from Mougianis, have included the late Bruce Misselwitz, Francesca Carinci and the Rev. Bruce Hitchcock, now superintendent of the United Methodist Church, Ohio Valley District. He offered insight on “how it all began,” prefacing with a mock apology his story of how the center’s financial foundation formed in the spring of 2005.

“For those of you who know me as a United Methodist pastor, please forgive me for the story I’m about to tell you. As a United Methodist, I do not gamble,” he said, noting he participated with Rotary Club peers, nonetheless, in their weekly 50-50 drawings. “I justified it by understanding that it was not gambling, that it was a contribution to the charity so that students could have scholarships.”

Despite having bad luck, Hitchcock said he did ultimately “win” a drawing for $43, and wondered what to do with it. The same day while driving he got nearly back-to-back calls from two community members – Jody Glaub and Jim McBane – each of whom offered $25,000 to help get a health center off the ground. Hitchcock joked that he wrecked twice but at least figured out what to do with his winnings.

“That is how this organization got started. We had $50,043 in a matter of 20 minutes,” he said to the audience’s laughter.

“If you really want to know the value of what goes on here, look around,” Hitchcock turned serious. “Look at the people who are here, look at the relationships of love and joy that are developed, and we all decide that there are a lot of people, our neighbors and friends, who have no health care and they’re literally dying, and that we can do something about it. How many thousands have better lives because of what you’ve decided to do. How many thousands of people have a better quality of life because you’ve worked to give them the medicine that they cannot afford and did not have until they came here.”

Hitchcock encouraged the audience to “stay who you are — willing to care, willing to love, willing to save your neighbors.”

Mougianis and Quillen extended thanks to the many who have helped the center serve a diversity of patients through the years – young and old, men and women, to the tune of 3,500 patients representing more than 22,000 patient encounters.

That army of helpers includes essential volunteers. “Without this group of dedicated servants it would be impossible for us to fulfill our mission,” Quillen said of the volunteer medical providers — doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, lab technicians, phlebotomists, counselors and medical assistants. “Without them sharing their time, knowledge and expertise, we would not have an Ohio Valley Health Center. Their efforts, synchronized with those of our faithful and dedicated staff, combine to provide high-quality health care to any who would not experience it in any other way.”

The center has had many different and innovative programs in its history, according to Quillen, from the Free to Be Healthy Diabetic and Hypertension program, “the new and improved” Free to Be Healthy 2.0, colorectal cancer screenings, COVID-19 testing and vaccines, a homeless shelter outreach, onsite counseling and work with the breast and cervical cancer program.

Quillen said medical directors of free clinics are ultimately responsible for all medical care, testing, medications and treatment.

“That is a huge responsibility and commitment, and we have had two of the best in Drs. Frank Petrola and Charn Nandra,” Quillen said. “Both have served so faithfully in this very important role, and both were named Volunteer Physician of the Year for Free Clinics in the entire state of Ohio,” she added.

“Every time I come here, I see the smiling faces, everybody is excited about it. It’s a great pleasure for me, and I love doing this,” Nandra commented. “I want to thank everybody for this and the community that has given so much money.”

The memory of two of the center’s “well-loved volunteer doctors who served so faithfully” were remembered, including Dr. John W. Metcalf Jr., who died Nov. 21, 2019, and had been a part of the center since its doors opened.

“Caring for women in need through the breast and cervical health program of Trinity Health System, Dr. Metcalf not only improved the physical health of our female patients, but he also lifted spirits and brought a smile to the face of many as you never knew what he was going to say,” Quillen said.

Dr. Santiago Ching died May 28, “his comforting and caring presence greatly missed.” His work with gastrointestinal and Hepatitis C patients “changed lives for the better and renewed in them a sense of hope for the future,” Quillen said. “His kindness and compassionate spirit were experienced by each and every one of his patients.”

Bouquets were presented to the widows of the doctors — Theresa Metcalf and Wilma Ching.

The program ended with the symbolic reason for the center’s supporters to gather — the burning of the mortgage, “signifying no indebtedness on a wonderful facility to be used to facilitate free health care to friends and neighbors of the Ohio Valley,” Mougianis said.

For patient care, to volunteer or donate, contact the health center at (740) 283-2856 or director@ovhealthcenter.org. The website is www.ovhealthcenter.org. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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