By CASSANDRA SHOFAR
MEDINA â€” If it wasnâ€™t for a local free clinic, Dennis Matyas may not have a hand, let alone his life.
Matyas, 57, a Brunswick resident who is a cook at Stonebrook Golf Academy in Middleburg Heights, acquired a staph infection in his hand last year, but didnâ€™t have health insurance to treat it.
â€œI couldâ€™ve lost my hand. The pills they gave me wouldâ€™ve cost $16,000. I couldnâ€™t handle that,â€ he said.
So Matyas went to the Medina Health Ministry Free Clinic started by Dr. Kim Bowen, director of the emergency room at Medina General Hospital, and other doctors.
The clinic, located inside the Salvation Army, 425 W. Liberty St., opened in 2003, but Bowen said he was wary about publicizing it then because he didnâ€™t want to have an influx of patients without enough doctors to help, and he didnâ€™t want to deplete resources.
The clinic now has about seven doctors who volunteer as well as 20 to 25 consultants who help out, Bowen said, adding he hopes to get more doctors involved.
Because of volunteers like Bowen, Matyas, who has been going to the clinic for three years after losing his previous job and his insurance, was able to get the treatment he needed, with only a $5 fee for medications.
Dr. Kim Bowen, director of the emergency room at Medina General Hospital, and other doctors created the Medina Health Ministry Free Clinic in 2003. About seven doctors and 20 to 25 consultants provide health care for people who donâ€™t have health insurance and meet certain requirements.(Shirley Ware | Photo Editor)
â€œIf I hadnâ€™t gone there, Iâ€™d be feeding the bugs and worms right now,â€ he said. â€œThey helped me a lot for whatever problems I had. I was in bad shape before I went there.â€
He added: â€œDr. Bowen took care of me. I recommend it to anybody that doesnâ€™t have insurance. I was treated real nice there. Everybody was real friendly.â€
Those eligible for care at the clinic have to be 200 percent below the poverty level, live in Medina County and have a job as well as pay taxes, Bowen said.
To put it in perspective, a single person would have to make roughly $21,000 a year, while a four-person family would have to make around $43,000, he said.
Bowen also started a free clinic in Parma, which opened in 2005.
Inspiration for the free clinics came from Bowenâ€™s earlier work in Cleveland as the director of the emergency room at St. Vincent Charity Hospital.
â€œI used to see people on public assistance getting better care than the people that donâ€™t have insurance but are paying taxes and working,â€ he said. â€œI just thought that was terribly wrong.â€
His first patient at the Parma clinic was considered clinically depressed and was given a prescription for antidepressants by a psychiatrist, which he showed to Bowen. The man, however, hadnâ€™t had a checkup in years, Bowen said.
â€œWe ended up finding a lump on his thyroid,â€ he said. â€œHe had thyroid cancer, which is why he was depressed.â€
Bowen arranged for treatment of the cancer and now the man is cancer-free and didnâ€™t have to sell his small bungalow or be up to his ears in debt with a bill that wouldâ€™ve been more than $120,000 total, Bowen said.
In Medina, Bowen recalled a construction worker who needed a hip replacement last year for which the prosthetic hip alone cost $10,000.
However, he was able to have it done for free, keep his job and get back to work as soon as he was able, Bowen said, adding this is not a one-person clinic, but truly operated by many people volunteering their time.
The people range from grant writers, accountants and pharmacists to doctors and nurses, as well as the Salvation Army donating space in its building for the two-room clinic.
â€œItâ€™s literally a community taking care of itself,â€ he said. â€œI love the project. I really believe in it. We are so lucky because of the people involved in this community.â€
The clinic operates on grants, local and federal, as well as fundraisers and donations, Bowen said.
He added the clinic ran on $30,000 last year, but provided roughly $700,000 in care.
â€œIf you give us a dollar to use, we multiply it,â€ he said.
Bowen said when people think of free clinics, they tend to think of downtown metro clinics where people are standing in line and itâ€™s more impersonal, but Medina Health Ministry is anything but impersonal.
â€œWe try to sit down, talk to (patients), and get to know them. They can even request certain doctors,â€ he said. â€œWe try to make it very personal here, more like a regular doctorâ€™s office. Iâ€™m kinda conservative â€¦ and operate it like an HMO.â€
However, unlike a regular doctorâ€™s office, the clinic operates at irregular hours, Bowen said, adding the doctors work around their regular shifts.
In addition, Bowen said some doctors are retired, or are only able to volunteer a couple times a year, but heâ€™ll take whatever he can get.
â€œDoctors today are earning less than they ever have before and doing more paperwork than ever before, so itâ€™s hard to ask them to do more â€¦ for free and miss their kidsâ€™ basketball game,â€ he said. â€œI know. Iâ€™m a dad, too.â€
Bowen said itâ€™s his belief in this project and knowing how many people need care that fuels his dedication.
Also, any doctors who volunteer at the clinic donâ€™t have to worry about malpractice nor do they have to worry about paperwork.
â€œYou just do your thing as a physician,â€ he said. â€œI can act naturally and just be a doc and care for patients.â€
While the clinic does cover all volunteers with malpractice insurance, Bowen said if you work for a free clinic in Ohio, you cannot be sued, but the insurance is there in case a lawyer is unaware of this and makes a claim anyway.
Medina Health Ministry takes walk-ins, but Bowen said an appointment is best. Also, for those who want to get involved, there will be a fundraiser from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Eagles pavilion, 696 Lafayette Road.
Tickets for the fundraiser, a pig and turkey roast with an auction and raffle, are $30 per person, Bowen said. Dinner will be served from 5 to 7 p.m. For tickets, call 330-764-9300.
Shofar may be reached at 330-721-4044 or firstname.lastname@example.org.