Although we are celebrating the 25thanniversary of the opening of Good News Clinics, the recognition of the need for such an entity goes back much farther. Shortly after beginning my practice in Gainesville in 1978 I, as well as other concerned physicians, became increasingly aware of the unmet medical needs of patients with no medical insurance and no financial ability to pay for medical care. Some of these patients came to our practices as ER referrals. Others arrived as a result of the request of friends, other physicians, or social agencies. And still others were our existing patients who had lost insurance benefits and lost sources of income. While we all tried to meet their needs as well as we could, it was clear that a more coordinated and comprehensive effort was preferable. Several small groups began meeting in the community to explore options. Northeast Georgia Medical Center supplied meeting space and breakfast items for our group, and after a series of monthly meetings with various speakers and ideas, but no definite direction, Gene Beckstein (“Mr. B”) came and offered us a small corner of his building in which to start. Concerns about our ability to meet what could be overwhelming needs for services, with inadequate resources, initially held us back, but I still remember Susie Harris, RN walking down the hall with me after one of our many meetings, in about 1992, and saying “Let’s just jump in and see what happens”.
We stepped out on faith, initially relying on a few volunteer physicians and nurses to staff a few hours in the evening, a couple of days a week. None of us had any idea that the current organization would ever result from such humble beginnings. As the word spread, so did the support. Northeast Georgia Medical Center has continued to provide “behind the scenes” support from the start. The Hall County Medical Society officially became involved a few years later, creating Health Access Initiative, a “wrap around” specialty network of volunteer subspecialists modeled after a program in Asheville, NC, to accept referrals from the volunteer physicians at Good News at no charge to the patients.
We rapidly outgrew the small corner of the Good News at Noon building, and a separate clinic was constructed next to that building with donated materials and labor. After a few years there we had the opportunity to acquire the present building, which more than tripled the available space for providing services, and allowed for further expansion to add new services.
None of these things would have been possible without the abundant philanthropic support (financial and “in kind”) of the entire community – employers, concerned citizens, physicians and nurses, grateful patients, Northeast Georgia Medical Center, and our dedicated full time staff.
~Dr. David Westfall