By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SPEEDWELL — A rural medical clinic, supported in part by local Christians, many of whom are members of Baptist churches, is trying to make a difference in one of the state’s poorest counties in Appalachia.
Claiborne County in northeast Tennessee, bordering the Kentucky state line, is impacted by poverty (according to IndexMundi, an international data portal), broken homes (50 percent of school-age children are raised by someone other than biological parents) and an opioid crisis (the county is the seventh highest county in the United States with the most opioid painkillers per capita).
The needs in the county are tremendous, observed Donnie Bannister, pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church, Speedwell, and chairman of the board of directors for Servolution Health Services (SHS). The clinic was the vision of longtime Claiborne County resident and veterinarian Edwin Robertson, who died five years ago after it started, Bannister said, adding that Robertson had “a God-centered vision.”
According to the SHS mission statement, the ministry “recognizes that Jesus Christ is the true healer of individuals, their communities and the source of our ability to serve. Servolution is a ministry presenting Christ to the Tri-State area by providing excellent holistic health, dental and mental health care services to the community regardless of ability to pay and regardless of faith.”
SHS was originally founded as a free medical and dental clinic in 2013 for uninsured patients in Claiborne County and surrounding areas. In November of 2017, it was designated as a Rural Health Clinic which means that in addition to uninsured patients, it can also serve pediatric patients and those with other insurances including TennCare, according to Deborah Chumley, who serves as co-CEO of SHS with Alicia Metcalf. Both women are members of Pump Springs Baptist Church, Harrogate.
As a free clinic, SHS could not serve anyone under the age of 18, Chumley said. Metcalf noted that in 2018 the clinic had 1,400 patient visits and is on track to do even more this year. The clinic has added about 100 new patients since last year, she added.
Edwin Robertson’s widow, Judy, who serves on the SHS board of directors, says the ministry has seen “one miracle after another.” On paper, she said, “we shouldn’t be here.” But, “it’s a God-thing,” she continued. “We rely on His blessings every day.”
Bannister agreed. “The ministry is incredible. Everyone here feels this is where God wants them to be.”
One of the “miracles” happened in June of this year. SHS received a Health Resources & Services Administration planning grant to develop prevention, treatment and recovery services for Claiborne and surrounding counties, Chumley said. “We were one of four in Tennessee and one of 120 in the nation that received the grant,” she added.
Chumley observed that SHS “is the only medical clinic in the area that does not turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay or lack of insurance. We are relying on God’s people to help us.”
In addition to the medical/dental clinic, SHS’s additional services include:
- Support services for grandparents raising grandchildren.
- Summer feeding site for children.
- Distribution of 200 backpacks of food sent to needy children in the county every week school is in session.
- After school fitness opportunities and dance classes for children (free) and adults (some insurance provides for gym membership for people over 65 if they have the Silver Sneakers or Silver & Fit benefit).
- Basic cooking and nutrition classes for middle school students.
Teaching cooking skills has been an important function of SHS, Bannister observed. “Some of the kids have to go home and cook for their grandparents.”
SHS is funded by private gifts from individuals, businesses and churches as well as grants similar to the one received earlier this summer, Chumley said.
Another element of SHS is the Thrift Store and Food Pantry, located next door. The entire facility is in the former vocational buildings of the old Powell Valley School in Speedwell.
The thrift store is stocked by the community. “We are blessed with donations,” said Anstett. In addition, local businesses and churches occasionally sponsor food drives to provide canned goods for the pantry. “We have a good community that supplies our needs.”
The thrift store provides the funds for the food pantry and food that is provided to children on weekends during the school year, said Tammy Anstett, manager of the store. The food pantry serves about 50 families a month by providing a food box once a month. Those families are also provided a voucher for clothing if they request it.
She noted that the Thrift Store and Food Pantry works with five local schools to provide food for needy children on weekends. Volunteers come each week and fill bags with food that can be easily opened and does not need to be heated.
Tracts are also provided in each bag, Anstett added.
“I love being able to provide for the needs of the children. … It’s all for His glory,” she stressed.
Bannister agreed. He spends time at SHS each week, praying and sharing the gospel with patients and those who come to the food pantry. “The clinic is wonderful because you can always find someone to talk with about the Lord,” he observed.
“To pray with people and see them get saved is worth all the effort,” he affirmed.
Richard Minton, director of missions for Cumberland Gap Baptist Association, affirmed the ministry which is supported in the association’s budget. “They are serving a real need in our community,” Minton observed. “I appreciate the ministry they do for the underserved and the needs they have.”
The clinic provides a prayer box where people can leave prayer requests. “We are honored that people trust us with their prayer requests,” Metcalf said.
The two co-directors request prayer from Tennessee Baptists for SHS that they will continue to be able to meet dental and health needs in Claiborne County and surrounding areas in the future. They noted that current needs include a part-time or full-time dentist or a team of volunteer dentists who could serve on a regular basis. Volunteers and school supplies, along with other items are always welcome, they added.
“There is so much potential for God to be glorified here,” the two women agreed.