A friendly, efficient night at the Clinic

A recent night at the Rappahannock Free Clinic’s diabetes clinic was busy, but not as much as they can be, says Barbara Dennis. She was leading the team of lay volunteers helping that night, which also included Holly Lanigan and Liz Blubaugh.

Before patients arrived, patient care director and physician Carmen Cioceanu, businesslike but friendly, worked quickly and efficiently to check some records and get together medications she’d brought from the main clinic in Warrenton while Dennis’s team got the reception desk ready to receive patients.

Jennifer Manly stopped by to deliver a homemade dinner to volunteers and staff, some of whom had come straight from work and welcomed the meal. Sometimes local restaurants donate the meals. Manly is one of several volunteers who help with meal delivery, which is usually coordinated by Jean Lillard.

Patients started trickling in around 5, the last arriving just before the 6 p.m. deadline for signing in. They ranged in age from 20s to 60s. A few children accompanied their parents.

Volunteer Barbara Dennis talks with patient Amber Thomas, as the latter signs in. Photo by Pam Owen.
Volunteer Barbara Dennis talks with patient Amber Thomas, as the latter signs in. Photo by Pam Owen.

Some patients look like they had lived a hard life. Several of the men, especially, showed the tan and calluses that came from doing outside work. Many do seasonal work – landscaping, construction, or something similar – that keeps money coming in only part of the year, says Cioceanu. Others just hit a hard patch financially and rely on the clinic until they can get back on their feet – an increasing problem since the recession.

Many of the diabetic patients have been coming to the clinic for years, becoming friends in the process. One of these patients, Amber Thomas, an attractive 22-year-old, says she’s looking for a job now and hopes to go to college and become an English teacher when she’s old enough to apply for student loans on her own. While some people may “look down on me because I’m poor,” she says, her fellow diabetes patients “treat me like family.”

Along with health issues, discussions in the waiting room ranged from finances to concern over bullying in school. Other than the kids occasionally getting fidgety, everyone seemed content to wait their turn to see the doctor or nurse practitioner.

As the patients arrived, the team of volunteers made sure their records were in order. Getting eligibility paperwork up to date can take a lot of time, but that was in good shape generally that day, says Dennis. Nurse Joanne Tepper started preliminary interviews with the patients and took their vital statistics.

Nurse practitioner Anne Miller and endocrinologist Patty Daly arrived just before 6 and went to work seeing patients. Thomas says she likes seeing Daly because “she’s very upfront and honest.” Born with acute hypoglycemia, Thomas says she has fought weight issues all her life and found out in high school that she had type II diabetes. Daly’s “a lecture-free doctor who tries to see the patient’s point of view” and comes up with a solution for treatment that both agree on, Thomas says. In her case, it’s diet and oral medication rather than insulin shots.

In a later interview, registered nurse Jennifer Matthews, who helped found the clinic and still volunteers there, said Daly follows through with patient care outside of the clinic, keeping in touch with patients and having Cioceanu fax lab work to her office.

While the providers can be at the clinic quite late on diabetes clinic nights, this night they will likely leave on time. Only 11 patients showed up, eight of whom were there for diabetes treatment, and these clinics often draw up to 15, says Dennis.

Although the number of patient visits is much higher in the Warrenton clinic, Fauquier Free Clinic executive director Rob Marino says his organization is committed to keeping the Rappahannock site open: “Local citizens taking care of people right in their own community is what we’re all about!”

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Pam Owen
About Pam Owen 274 Articles
Writer, editor, photographer, and passionate nature conservationist living in Rappahannock County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Two favorite quotes: By E.O. Wilson, who coined the term "biodiversity," "Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”; by Douglas Adams, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”