Jackie Chandler has had medical insurance intermittently, depending on his jobs over the years.
So when she didn’t have insurance, she relied on free medical care for her high blood pressure and other ailments at OPEN M in Akron, a Christian and nonprofit ministry. . Chandler also used the pantry services.
On a recent visit to OPEN M’s medical clinic in the Summit Lake area of Akron, Chandler, 70, was so weak with severe lower back pain and a lack of appetite that the doctor who saw her that evening told her she had to go to the emergency room. But Chandler was too weak to drive herself.
So Dr. Joseph Rinaldi, a cardiologist at Western Reserve Hospital who volunteers once a month at the clinic, drove Chandler to the emergency room.
“I’m just stunned,” Chandler said recently from her hospital room at Summa Health Akron City Hospital, where she was on her sixth day being treated for a severe urinary tract infection and severe dehydration. “I was impressed with the whole situation.”
OPEN M Executive Director Christine Curry said it was very unusual for one of the doctors to drive a patient to the hospital, but it shows the level of care and compassion of the professionals who come to help. their time.
“It’s definitely atypical, but Dr. Rinaldi is extremely dedicated to the patients of Open M. They really love him and appreciate having one of the best cardiologists in the area. For someone of his reputation, showing that kind of care and due diligence says a lot about what we have here, ”said Curry.
Rinaldi said it was the first time in his career that he had taken a patient to the hospital, while acknowledging that he had taken a patient or two to the emergency room at Western Reserve Hospital from his office in the hospital.
“She came in and was obviously sick. I was afraid that she would be dehydrated and have trouble walking, ”said Rinaldi. “She probably shouldn’t have gone to the clinic let alone the emergency room, where I thought she should go.”
Rinaldi said patients seen at the OPEN M medical clinic didn’t have insurance, so “the last thing I wanted for her was to get a bill for an ambulance. It was near the end of the clinic. it was on the way home. It really didn’t matter. ”
Rinaldi led Chandler to Summa’s emergency room and gave the doctors a little history before he left. He suspected that she had a urinary tract infection and had nothing to do with her heart, which is her specialty. Rinaldi was at OPEN M that evening for his shift, seeing all the patients, not just the cardiology patients.
Help the community
The medical clinic, which is open Monday through Thursday by appointment and serves as the primary care practice for patients, is just one of the free programs offered by OPEN M, which has served the larger Akron community for 53 years. It was formed as a neighborhood ecumenical ministry of opportunity parish in 1968 by four churches, and Curry said he has since received support from additional churches, foundations, nonprofit organizations. , business partners and thousands of volunteers.
All programs are free and eligible for income. To register for one of the 10 food service programs offered by OPEN M, contact the United Way of Summit and Medina County 2-1-1 service (dial 2-1-1 or 330-376– 6660). To verify eligibility for the OPEN M medical clinic, call 330-434-0110.
OPEN M serves the Summit Lake community around its head office on Prince Street, but the medical clinic and food service customers come from all over Summit County, Curry said.
In total, 40% of the clinic’s active patients are from the Summit Lake area and the remaining 60% are from greater Akron and Summit County. Of the patients, 43% are white, 42% are black / brown, and the rest identify as “other” or go unidentified, Curry said.
“There is a misnomer about uninsured people and what they look like and people are totally inaccurate,” said Curry, who has been an executive director since last year. “Not being insured is a matter of equal opportunities and the world has to step in and do something about this country. We are more than happy to be the place to be and the only true free clinic in Summit County. We are truly free. We don’t take Medicaid. Our prescriptions are all free. Last year, in 2020, we dispensed over $ 1.5 million in free prescriptions. ”
For OPEN M’s food services, 7% of households were from the Summit Lake neighborhood, 92% from the rest of Summit County, and 1% from outside the county, Curry said. Last year, OPEN M’s food awareness programs distributed $ 1.25 million worth of food to nearly 14,000 households or over 37,000 people.
Chandler said the medical clinic and pantry, where she obtained staple foods from OPEN M, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, have been extremely helpful. Doctors helped her control her high blood pressure, and she was able to see specialists like chiropractors and acupuncturists at special clinics.
“It has been extremely helpful,” said Chandler, who is sad as she will be switching to Medicare and not be able to use the medical clinic but will still use the food services. “They met all the needs I had, including the pantry. They are just awesome.
Food insecurity among the elderly is on the rise, Curry said, noting that more than 4,000 Summit County residents received assistance from OPEN M in 2020.
Serve during the pandemic
OPEN M’s services also did not stop during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Julie Carneal, the organization’s head of facilities and food services.
The medical clinic closed in person during the height of the pandemic, but switched to telehealth appointments and continued to dispense the medications patients need, said interim director Tammy Hicks. It is now open again for in-person appointments Monday through Thursday, with specialty clinics around nine to ten times per month.
OPEN M’s food service programs also didn’t stop during the pandemic, when the need was great, Carneal said.
The Pantry, which offers staples once a month with a recommendation “was one of those that never closed their doors. All of our employees, even though their programs were closed, worked in the pantry. We weren’t allowed to have volunteers here [at the height of the pandemic], so we continued. We have never missed any program, ”said Carneal.
OPEN M has or participates in 10 different food distribution programs, including a new partnership with Door Dash to deliver pantry-type food to the inmates and Blessing Bags, which donate canned food to help the inmates. people to stay overnight and hot meals, offered daily for the last two months of the week. There’s even dog and cat food donated by the Humane Society.
OPEN M has moved all of its food pickups to a drive-thru system during the pandemic and has areas for those who walk; he will continue this method through the winter, said Carneal,
“We have found it to be much more efficient and less complicated for people to stand for a while. If they don’t have a car, they come by and stay on the benches until we’re ready to serve, ”she said.
New autonomous dental clinic
OPEN M also has a new stand-alone dental clinic called The Harry and Fran Donovan Dental Clinic. OPEN M has had volunteer dentists seeing patients in its medical clinic, but the new freestanding dental clinic with multiple bays provides more space for specific needs, Curry said. The clinic started taking patients in February.
Curry is looking to hire a dentist and hygienist for 30 hours per month each to work with volunteer dentists to serve more people.
Until hires are made, for now, the 450 active OPEN M dental patients are the only ones who can be seen in the clinic, Curry said.
Summit County Councilor Veronica Sims, who grew up in the Summit Lake area, volunteered at OPEN M as a teenager and whose county covers the area, praised the organization for serving its neighborhood and beyond.
“OPEN M has established itself in the neighborhood. It’s not something that happens as an offshoot. It’s an integral part of this community, ”said Sims.
“I hope that through this whole pandemic, in the work that OPEN M has continued to do, we start to reassess what public health looks like and where does public health meet the community in a real way – so we’re not doing that kind of recognized work trying to mobilize within the community when we have these crises, ”she said.
Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected] Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or at www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. To see her most recent stories and columns, visit www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher.
How can you help
• OPEN M can accept prescriptions given, but only if they are still sealed and not expired. Incontinence and wound care supplies will also be needed. He cannot accept medical supplies like walkers or wheelchairs.
• To volunteer, donate or find other ways to help, visit www.openm.org or call 330-434-0110