- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - When Denise Battle arrived outside the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center at 3 a.m. on July 13, it was pitch black outside.

Battle waited for two more hours inside her parked car before joining the line of people forming outside the building, where others had been camping out since the day before, in the rain, for the doors to open.

“I’m thankful that I waited in the rain,” she said. “I’m thankful that I came here.”

Battle had driven six hours from Washington, D.C., after seeing a Facebook post about a mega “pop-up” clinic organized, in part, by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, of which she is a member. Battle was there for what she called a dental emergency.

The Your Best Pathway to Health clinic, a three-day medical clinic that offers free health care on a first-come, first-served basis, opened its doors at 7 a.m. July 13, and Battle said she was in a chair and seeing a dentist by 10 a.m., where they were able to take care of her problem.

“I had a dental emergency,” Battle said. “I went to two dentists, and they couldn’t resolve it. I’m really glad that I came. The issue wasn’t even money; they just didn’t resolve it. It was like, ‘Oh, it’ll go away,’ but it didn’t. I needed antibiotics, and this dentist was very thorough.”

Dental work - from fillings to root canals to cleanings - is one of the most popular facets of the free clinic’s offerings. Inside the convention center, scores of people waited for the makeshift dental clinic, where rows of reclining dental chairs lined an open room, and teams of dentists and dental hygienists worked on patients side by side.

“All of my back teeth are broken, so I want to get as many pulled as I can,” said Ruth Adkins, of Hinton. “With an X-ray, the cheapest I’ve found around here is $185. I can’t afford that.”

Anna Byrd, of Mullens, said she came to the clinic because she saw an opportunity to take care of a few cavities before they got worse.

“I’ve got Medicaid, and it doesn’t cover fillings,” she said. “I don’t want to have my teeth pulled. Thank God, this is here; this is perfect.”

Everyone who visited the convention center that day was sent first to triage, where their medical needs were evaluated and they were sent to another part of the clinic. Some patients took advantage of more than one service, while others had to choose a secondary service because of high demand - Joseph Hornsby, of Bolt, said he opted for an eye exam after the dental clinic was forced to stop accepting more patients.

Dr. Art Calhoun, a family-practice doctor in Doddridge County, had seen more than 15 patients by 11 a.m. for a range of problems, from uncontrolled high blood pressure to diabetes.

“Most of them just weren’t being treated, for one reason or another,” he said. “We also spend some time talking to patients about lifestyle; we have a lifestyle section of the clinic. I’ve seen some people who don’t necessarily need medicine, but if they could change some things about the way they live, they would see improvements.”

For Larry Boggess, president of the Mountain View Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, which covers most of West Virginia, the Beckley clinic aligns perfectly with the church’s mission to “provide wholeness” for people.

“We know from statistics that West Virginia does not have the best reputation, in terms of health, so our goal is to provide health education. We want to help people to know how to improve their lives,” Boggess said. “Seventh Day Adventists are known to help promote healthy lifestyles … we want people to know that their friends, the Adventists, are here to help them - that there are people who want to partner with communities to help them not to be challenged by health problems.”

Boggess said that week’s clinic isn’t the end of temporary free clinics in Southern West Virginia - the Adventists plan to hold training that teach health providers how to organize and carry out similar clinics on a smaller scale.

Boggess, who grew up in Ohio, across the river from Weirton, and who moved to Beckley 27 years ago, said he lobbied for the clinic to be held in Beckley because he had witnessed many of the particular struggles West Virginians have with health care access and affordability.

By the end of the day, the clinic had treated 518 patients, including more than 250 in its eye clinic alone. Celeste Ryan Blyden, communications coordinator for the event, said the group hopes to see at least 500 more Thursday.

The clinic was staffed by more than 730 volunteers, from medical providers to massage therapists to beauticians, many of whom travel from city to city to participate in the clinics. After experiencing their work firsthand, Battle said she hopes to join them.

“Now that I’ve seen the operation,” she said, “I definitely want to volunteer.”

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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