Published November 13, 2014
WOODSTOCK — On a recent weekend in Woodstock, people from throughout the region came for a Love Loud initiative sponsored by First Baptist Church. They could get free haircuts, clothes, food, and a few teeth pulled.
If you are old enough to remember when physicians made house calls, the idea of health-care providers coming to you may be familiar. They no longer pull up to your front door, but in Georgia, a Baptist mobile clinic may be nearby offering free dental services.
Warner Robbins beginnings
The mobile medical-dental model for Georgia came from the heart of a registered nurse.
“We began in 1995 as a ministry because of a lady – Yesmin Wilson – in Central Baptist Church in Warner Robbins who was doing migrant outreach through health fairs each year,” said Diana Brown, the administrative assistant for Baptist Mobile Health Ministry (BMHM). “Volunteers were members of the Baptist Medical-Dental Fellowship (BMDF) state chapter.”
Moses Valdez, the Georgia Baptist Convention’s state missionary for Hispanic church planting, had joined the state staff about that time from Florida where that state Baptist convention had a mobile medical-dental clinic. He encouraged the formation of one in Georgia. GBC provided seed money from Cooperative Program (CP) funds.
The first mobile unit was a used Blue Bird Bus from Macon, which was already equipped for dental services. That bus burned on a trip to north Georgia in 1999, but smoke didn’t consume the vision. The GBC and the Georgia BMDF raised enough funds to build a customized fifth wheel, which stayed in service until May 2007.
The Georgia Baptist Healthcare Ministry Foundation (GBHMF) has issued grants for two additional state-of-the-art mobile units. The most recent went into service in November 2013.
Meeting unmet needs
Brown has served with the ministry as administrative assistant and unit coordinator since November 2000. The ministry now has 14 part-time staff serving as unit coordinators and drivers.
Across the state, the need for medical and dental assistance has always been great, Brown said.
“God grew it from us going maybe to six or seven places on Saturdays to now we average going to 35 different sites annually from three days to five days a week, March through November,” Brown said. “Treatment is rendered by professional lay volunteers, local to the project site.”
The type of assistance sought at the mobile medical-dental clinic has changed. More communities have faith-based clinics that offer free services, and many uninsured now go to emergency rooms for medical treatment, which the law requires hospitals to provide. Most often, the mobile units support medical screenings at health fairs.
Dentistry is a different proposition. The vast majority of underserved people have no access to dental services. Medicare doesn’t provide dental care unless it’s associated with a medical problem and Medicaid only pays for extractions.
Four times a year, the units serve pastors with dental needs with funds from the GBHMF.
People served by the ministry represent the growing diversity of Georgia.
“We do a week of projects where we go to six different migrant camps in June,” Brown said. “Bowen Baptist Association sponsors us.”
The migrant workers include Jamaicans, Hispanics, Haitians, Anglos, and African Americans.
“We don’t tell the churches who to serve,” Brown said.
Between 1998 and 2013, the mobile units visited 378 sites and conducted 806 clinic days. More than 30,000 medical and dental screenings have occurred. Of those served, 1,099 have made professions of faith.
“We are an evangelistic tool of the convention that enables GBC churches to reach out to their communities through health care,” Brown said.
The mobile medical dental clinics operate under the auspices of BMHM and have an independent board. GBC’s CP funds, grant funding, and donations sustain the ministry, which has rendered an estimated $1 million of service. The GBC offers additional in-kind contributions of office space and financial services.
“CP is the [financial] backbone that we count on,” Brown said, “and the churches are doing the work.”
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming. To schedule the Baptist Mobile Health Ministry’s mobile vans for your community, contact Diana Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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