Medical mission: Residents seek free health care at military clinic

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 8, 2016

NATCHEZ — Several years ago, Fayette resident Keith Dorsey had what he believed was a sinus issue, which led to him losing sight in one of his eyes.

Dorsey said he cannot afford to get it checked, but it’s starting to impact his job as a meter reader for the City of Fayette.

“We get calls about writing bad numbers, so I need to get this fixed,” he said. “I need to go up and see what is going on.”

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Dorsey is one of more than 250 people who showed up at the Tricentennial Wellness Innovative Readiness Training medical clinic looking for free health care each day the clinic was open last week. The clinic is set up on Alcorn State University and Copiah-Lincoln Community College Natchez campuses will continue until Aug. 14, running each day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The clinic is a U.S. Department of Defense Department Innovative Readiness Training Program in which military volunteers are given a chance to gain experience while also offering services to underserved and underinsured people.

The program is free. No registration, identification, insurance or proof of income is required, but services are rendered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Unfortunately for Dorsey, he was told he’d have to come back the following day, and get to the school earlier in the morning than 10 a.m.

Maj. Spencer Taylor said dental and vision care have been the most popular services, and some people are arriving hours before the clinic opens at 8 a.m. to become one of the folks selected for care that day.

“We reach capacity pretty early, but people have been very understanding,” he said. “It’s best to monitor the flow carefully so we can maintain efficiency and get everyone taken care of in a timely manner.”

Rita Hayes came in early on Saturday and returned on Sunday to pick her glasses up. It was only the second pair of real glasses she has had in her entire life. In between, Hayes said, she has been making do with reading glasses from the drug store.

“Now it’s nice because I can really see,” she said. “I’ve been saying, ‘Oh, so that’s what that is.’”

Hayes said she had a car accident in 1989, and as she has aged the pain has gotten bad enough to make it to where she can no longer work. She’s trying to get on disability, but it’s been a slow process for her.

“You just have to do what you have to do,” Hayes said. “I’ve been having to depend on family and friends for help.

“I just say the Lord is going to bless me sooner or later, I just hope it’s before I drop dead,” she said, laughing.

Hayes urged people to come out and take advantage of the service.

“It is wonderful what they are doing here for a lot of people,” she said. “It is a blessing because a lot of people don’t have insurance or the money.”

Rebecca Stephens and Jean Ratcliff, both of Natchez, went together and got their vision work and dental work done, respectively.

“It was going to have to be next year before I went and got glasses,” Stephens said. “When you’ve got four kids, it’s hard to come up with money for glasses. They come first.”

Ratcliff said her teeth had been hurting for years, and it was getting to the point where she could not stand the pain. Ratcliff said she’d come back Wednesday to get the work completed.

“I would have had to pay more than $2,000 to get my teeth pulled,” she said. “I could not afford that so I’ve just been dealing with the pain.

“If you ain’t got the money, you ain’t got it, so you have to just deal with it.”

Theresa Ringo does have insurance, but she said all it’s doing for her is keeping her from having to pay the fine around tax deadline time. She can’t afford the deductible, so she doesn’t go to the doctor.

“It’s my first time going to a doctor in more than a year,” she said. “I’m going to get a vision and a health check up.

“What they are doing now is truly a blessing for people.”