New York native Leona Doner is making an impact on health care for those in eastern Wake County without insurance
Q: You are the founder and director of the Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic on Pony Road in Zebulon, which you helped to open in 2010. In the five years it has been open, you have witnessed tremendous growth, and are currently working on an addition. What was your goal when you opened? And what do you attribute to its growing number of patients?
A: Years ago, when I was working with Raleigh Rescue Mission, I got a chance to attend a seminar provided by the Association of Free Clinics, and heard what it takes to open a clinic. I knew there was a need in eastern Wake County to provide medical care for people without insurance and that is what I wanted to do. I am a Christian and I believe the Lord gave me the vision to do this. We started out with a handful of patients and now we are serving 757 patients. I think it has grown because of word of mouth, but we have also grown because there are a lot of people without insurance in eastern Wake and they come to us out of need.
Q: How do you keep your doors open if your patients do not have insurance?
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A: The Association of Free Clinics provided start-up money. We were also provided grants and donations.
Q: You operate a free clinic, but do you receive any funds from the patients?
A: We ask everyone to pay a $5 administrative fee. If they can’t pay, then that is OK. We also ask them to donate toward any lab work.
Q: What about when a patient comes in and their health issues are beyond the clinic’s capabilities?
A: We partner with Project Access, which makes specialty physicians available. We also have specialty physicians that will donate office visits. We work with UNC Charity Care. We work with the Rex Mobile Mammography and Lens Crafters also helps us.
Q: How has your staff grown?
A: When we first started, we were open one day a week. Now we are open four days a week, one night a week and one Saturday. We have one paid provider (physician) and three volunteers. We have one paid receptionist and two volunteers. We have one paid nurse and three volunteer nurses, and we have one volunteer administrator.
Q: And your space has grown as well? Is your space volunteer as well?
A: We rent the space where we are. We currently utilize half of the building and we are getting ready to take over the entire building. We are going to add a gynecological examination room, and enlarge our lab.
Q: Has healthcare always been an interest to you?
A: I have always wanted to be a nurse. Ever since I was a kid. I have always done something in healthcare.
Q: What are some of the other jobs you have experienced in the healthcare profession?
A: I worked as a tech in a developmental center.
Q: What type of cases did you encounter there?
A: We treated from the cradle to the grave. From mildly developmentally delayed to profoundly developmentally delayed. I worked there for eight years. I loved working with the kids.
Q: I am sure there were many challenges?
A: I wouldn’t say it was particularly a challenge. Taking care of others is something I have done all my life. You always hear it takes a special person to work with people like this, and I would agree that special-needs people need special people to take care of them.
Q: What would you tell someone entering this profession?
A: To have compassion for all people and that no two situations are ever the same.
Q: Are you from the eastern Wake County area?
A: I was born and raised in Rochester, New York.
Q: What brought you to North Carolina?
A: My mom remarried and her second husband had family in North Carolina, and I also suppose they had a desire to retire. Then he passed and I came down here to be with her.
Q: Any children?
A: Between my husband and me, we have seven kids, 13 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Q: That is quite a large family. Any of them following in your footsteps?
A: My daughter is studying to get her nursing degree.
Q: What has surprised you in the whole process of starting and running a clinic?
A: That there is a large need for more mental health assistance for eastern Wake. And we have a lot of people in this area with diabetes. There are just a lot of people in general who need medical care. It is a vicious cycle. You can’t hold a job if you are sick. And you can’t get insurance unless you have a job. We just do what we can to help.
Correspondent Dena Coward