What started as a means to “nurture broken bodies and souls” by filling gaps in medical services available to vulnerable populations in Hall County is still sealing those cracks 30 years later.
Good News Clinics was founded in 1992 as a faith-based health center and affiliate of Good News at Noon to provide free medical and dental care to Hall County’s underserved and uninsured.
From those humble beginnings of serving just a handful of people at the shelter, the organization has grown to become the state’s largest free health clinic as well as a lifeline for more than 3,500 patients annually.
While the two “still take care of the same people,” Good News Clinics Executive Director Liz Coates noted Good News Clinics and Good News at Noon operate autonomously to fulfill “totally different missions.”
“There are many people who are not homeless who need that same health care and can’t access it without us,” she said. “For us to be able to broaden beyond that demographic has been very critical in changing this entire community.”
To be eligible for services, prospective patients must reside within Hall County, fall within 150% of the federal poverty guideline for household income and be uninsured.
“If you have ever imagined for just a moment, in the middle of your own health crisis, what it would be like not to have medication, not to be able to access a doctor when you’re terrified — that’s a very real thing for thousands of our neighbors,” Coates said.
Achieving ‘Greater Things’
Good News Clinics marked its 20th anniversary with an expansion of its facility, and, true to tradition, is preparing to do so once again.
Through the Greater Things capital campaign, Good News aims to garner $8 million in pledged funds to renovate its own facility as well as the 8,400-square-foot warehouse next door, named the NGHS Health Education Center, which it purchased in 2019.
“We started as a tiny little place, and now, here we grow again,” Coates said “We’ve been overcrowded to provide services for the demand that we see for several years.”
Currently, the campus houses medical, dental and acupuncture clinics, a counseling program, specialty referrals program, a pharmacy and a dispensary.
With the expansion, the facility will add six more exam rooms, six provider rooms, four counseling offices, a chapel, an outdoor classroom and other education services, as well as an expanded welcome center with a “blessing box” area for patients to pick up free medical supplies, shelf stable foods and hygiene items.
All clinical services will be at the current facility, with everything else, including administration and the education department, moving to the renovated warehouse.
Overall, the expansion will allow Good News to accommodate 2,000 more patients a year and triple its capacity for mental and behavioral health services and eye care.
Construction is slated to begin in early 2023.
“It’s going to be an exciting and challenging time to meet the capacity and the need that’s growing in Hall County,” Development Director Elizabeth Martin said.
“To imagine that Good News Clinics began with just a couple of people — nurse, physician, some churches who got together who saw the problem — working sort of in tandem with the homeless shelter, seeing patients wherever they could make space, to purchasing their first property and becoming incorporated as a nonprofit 30 years ago … (it’s) really a testimony to the volunteers and to the donors and to this community for its willingness to support our neighbors,” Coates said. “I’m blown away by the collective effort.”
Today, the organization has 31 employees, about 250 volunteer clinicians and another 100 or so non-clinical volunteers who assist with clerical tasks like eligibility screening and patient intake.
“It’s a robust place and we cannot do what we do without those volunteers,” Coates said. “That’s the foundation that we stand upon for sure.”
Nearly $5.6 million has been pledged for the campaign so far, and donors to the campaign have three years to fulfill their commitment. Donations can be made online at goodnewsclinics.org/greater-things.
Looking back, propelling forward
When she assumed the role of executive director in 2019, Coates knew growth was on the horizon. What she didn’t see coming, however, was leading Good News Clinics through the coronavirus pandemic 13 months later.
“I will never forget March 14, 2020,” she said. “That day, your leadership goes to a test, ready or not. That was definitely an intense period, but also really rewarding to see people coming out of the woodwork to help in any way that they could, and so rewarding to see no one being turned away anywhere ever.”
In terms of clarifying the organization’s vision for growth, Coates said the experience has been both an honor and a challenge.
“I really feel called to the work that I do,” she said. “And I also feel like I stand on some really strong shoulders.”
Coates credits Good News Clinics’ first executive director, Cheryl Christian, who “built a fantastic foundation” for the organization, and first volunteer medical director, the late Dr. Sam Poole, for whom the facility’s medical clinic is named.
“(Poole) is referred to as the engine that got the locomotive running. He came on early in the life of Good News Clinics and took the first official medical director role. He really, really helped with volunteer recruitment and helped build the foundation for our structure as a volunteer clinic; he really pushed Good News Clinics forward in his tenure, and his tenure was quite long.”
As for the future, “the hope is that one day we’re not needed; the vision is to be prepared for the reality that we’ll always be needed,” Coates said. “We know, with Hall County growing, we’ve got to be prepared to not let anyone fall through the cracks.”