Open Door clinic provides health care for the homeless

Nov. 6—HIGH POINT — A once-thriving free medical clinic that closed is back on its feet again, hoping to provide a shot in the arm for the underserved community in High Point.

The clinic, offered weekly at Open Door Ministries, provides primary health care to anyone who needs it — including the general public — but is specifically targeting the city's homeless population, including men who stay at the Open Door shelter and women who reside at Leslie's House, a women's shelter affiliated with West End Ministries.

"This clinic is incredibly beneficial," said Ryan Ross, executive director of Open Door Ministries. "We have so many guys here that experience minor illnesses, but the emergency room is their doctor's office. So by coming here, they're able to get their blood pressure checked, get their sugar checked — get the things done that a lot of people take for granted."

The clinic also benefits Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist High Point Medical Center, Ross said, because homeless individuals' excessive use of the emergency room for non-emergency medical needs can drive up costs and take away beds from patients who may need actual emergency care.

According to volunteer coordinator Barry Schultheiss, Open Door hosted a similar clinic several years ago, but it fell by the wayside when the registered nurse who ran it retired. He and other volunteers launched a plan to revive the clinic about 2 1/2 years ago.

"It started slow but gradually built up to where we were averaging 12 to 15 people a night," Schultheiss said. "Then COVID came along and cut us way back, and now we see anywhere from about two to nine people a night. But I feel like we can do more, and we would like to do that."

The clinic offers traditional primary-care treatment, from minor aches and pains to colds, influenza, insomnia and all sorts of other maladies, said Linda Newton, a registered nurse — and former director of the Emergency Department at High Point Medical Center — who volunteers at the clinic.

"In the wintertime, we see a lot of skin issues, because they've been exposed to the elements," Newton said. "We also see a lot of colds and all kinds of respiratory things that you would normally see that time of year."

High blood pressure is another common problem among the homeless, she said.

"That was something we couldn't do anything about until we got a nurse practitioner, because high blood pressure requires prescription medicine," she said.

The nurse practitioner position was added this past spring, Schultheiss said.

Volunteer nurse practitioner Kelly Flynt, of Carolina Priority Care in Oak Ridge, pointed out that sometimes patients need more than just a single prescription, such as a patient who has a chronic condition like diabetes.

"Sometimes it's more than just a prescription or more than just a test," she said. "Sometimes they need complete continuity of care."

Occasionally, the health care workers at the clinic will refer a patient to the Community Clinic of High Point, which offers a broader scope of services, or even to the emergency room if a patient needs true emergency care.

Molly Jordan, executive director of the Community Clinic, said the more health care access High Point's underserved population has, the better. She also pointed out, however, that while the two clinics have a similar mission, they're not the same.

"I would say the main distinction is in the comprehensive nature of services provided here," Jordan said. "We provide primary care, too, but we also provide onsite specialty care. We have a full-service pharmacy onsite and on-site lab services, as well. We're a one-stop shop."

Another distinction is in the Community Clinic's eligibility requirements. Patients must be 18-64; must reside in High Point, Jamestown, Archdale or Trinity; must be uninsured; and must have income no more than 200% of the federal poverty level.

The Open Door clinic has no such eligibility requirements, and it's currently run out of a small room at the shelter, whereas the Community Clinic operates in its own freestanding facility. Also, the Open Door clinic operates only once a week — the Community Clinic offers five clinics a week — but that could change.

Ross, Open Door's executive director, said the ministry has applied for a High Point Community Foundation grant to help pay for the clinic's growth.

"This space is good for now," he said, "but we'd really like to expand at some point." — 336-888-3579