By Cassidy Pate, News Editor
The Body of Christ Community Clinic celebrated 10 years of faith-based service on Wednesday. Due to COVID-19, or the coronavirus, a virtual tour of the medical and dental clinics was posted to their Facebook page to commemorate this achievement on Monday.
According to the clinic’s website, in 2008, Herb Cox, principal of Belton High School at the time, and Andy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Belton, put their heads together to establish a means of supporting the undeserved population of their community. The result was a free clinic.
After months of researching, planning and gaining support from local sponsors – performed by the Founding Team of Davis, Craig Pearson, Billy Ligon, Julie O’Rear and Caroline Insall with the help of Empowering Churches in Healthcare Outreach (ECHO) – the Body of Christ Community Clinic opened its doors to the medical clinic on June 10, 2010, their website said. On July 8, 2010, the dental clinic began serving the community, and both have been operating ever since.
The Body of Christ Community Clinic now has the support of 15 member churches, private donors and offers multiple forms of medical and dental care to residents of Belton, Salado and all of east Bell County, Executive Director Donna Dunn said. In 2019, the clinic collected 1,780 medical patient visits and 1,100 dental patient visits, amounting to 2,880 total patient visits in the past year.
Dunn, who has worked in the clinic for eight years, said the Body of Christ Community Clinic changed her outlook on life.
“I just love it here,” Dunn said. “You can feel God’s presence in here, and He’s watched over everything we’ve done. It is a tremendous blessing to be able to be here, to do what we do.”
In the beginning, the clinic was open for three hours a week on Thursday evenings.
“As the word got out, we kept getting more and more patients, so we realized that we needed to expand the service area, and because a lot of our patients do work, we realized that we needed to continue the evening clinics so that they could do their jobs and then come to the doctor if they needed to,” Dunn said. “Then we started a morning clinic because we do lab work, and it’s hard for a lot of people to go all day without eating to do labs.”
Upon the realization that dental health is lacking in Belton and the surrounding areas, Dunn said the Body of Christ Community Clinic was eager to expand to two facilities in 2016.
“Some people have medical insurance, but dental is just a really huge need among the population here in our area,” Dunn said.
That said, a church down the street offered its building to the clinic to increase their capacity for dental services, and the dental clinic, fit with six operatories, opened debt-free. This tripled the number of patients the clinic could see, as the medical clinic has two operatories, Dunn said.
“There’s a huge need for services like this here,” Dunn said. “We are providing much needed medical and dental services, but we also are a ministry, and we’re able to pray with our patients as they come in.”
Today, the medical clinic is open on Tuesday mornings, Tuesday afternoons and Thursday evenings, while the dental clinic offers its services on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as well as Thursday evenings.
Patients are screened for eligibility; proof of address, a picture ID and source of income are required, and those below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline are eligible for the clinic’s care.
Essentially, those without resources outside of the emergency room make up the majority of the clinic’s patients, Dunn said.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Body of Christ Community Clinic never closed its medical clinic; the doctors offered telemedicine, while lab work was postponed. The clinic reopened for in-person appointments last Tuesday with restrictive guidelines and preventative measures, such as the requirement of wearing face masks.
The dental clinic did close for two weeks but reopened for emergency visits and returned to regular service three weeks ago.
In response to job loss and the potential loss of insurance as a result of COVID-19, Dunn said the clinic has made preparations for an increase of patients at the free clinic.
“We’re kind of preparing to possibly open up more often to be able to help take care of some of these folks that have lost their resources, hopefully just for the time being, but we’re making plans for that,” Dunn said.
Because the Body of Christ Community Clinic does not accept any government funding or insurance, meaning it is privately funded, Dunn said donations and volunteers are welcome and encouraged. At this time, there are five part-time employees and 120 volunteers working at the clinic.
“We’re always looking for volunteers to come help support us,” Dunn said. “From all kinds of volunteers – medical doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, dentists, dental assistants, receptionists, prayer partners – just a whole ton of different types of volunteers.”
Billy Ligon, MD, is a full-time family physician for Baylor Scott & White Health and the current medical director for the Body of Christ Community Clinic. As a founding member of the clinic, Ligon said he is not surprised by its longevity but rather excited about the faith-based service that led to its success.
“We knew God had good things to be done,” Ligon said. “The name, ‘Body of Christ,’ says it all.”
Regarding his time spent in the clinic, Ligon said it is an honor to work alongside people who understand the value of serving others.
“Most important: we offer a medical and dental home and a reliable, smiling face,” Ligon said. “It’s a place to live your faith and serve, and you don’t have to be medical and doctors; we have people serving in all different roles.”
Ronnie Hughes has been a patient of the Body of Christ Community Clinic for three years and said its volunteers – from counselors and doctors to the office staff – serve the community with compassion and care.
“I love them,” Hughes said.
Hughes, who is originally from Belton, returned to town and was unaware of how she was going to maintain her health without medical insurance. A friend mentioned the Body of Christ Community Clinic, and she has never looked back.
“It means the world; I don’t know where I’d be without them,” Hughes said.
The first time she visited the clinic, her doctor requested her medical files from her previous medical caregiver and sought to provide her with the best treatment possible, Hughes said.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, she said the clinic’s attention to detail has not faded. Through offering telemedicine and having her counselor make calls to check up on her, Hughes said the Body of Christ Community Clinic has gone above and beyond what they already do not have to do.
“They do not have to do what they do, but they do it, and they’re amazing,” Hughes said. “They really advocate for their patients.”