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TOTALLY EAST TEXAS: Clinic and medical ministry helping East Texans without insurance

Bethesda Health Clinic in Tyler is not your average medical center. It's a ministry helping people who can't afford healthcare with volunteer and community help.

TYLER, Texas — People will travel for great medical care. That's definitely the case for a state of the art clinic in Tyler. Bethesda Health Clinic is not your average clinic, though. It depends largely on volunteers and community support to help care for people who wouldn't be able to afford healthcare otherwise.

For years, Bruce Beard lived with a painful lipoma on the back of his neck. "It limited the way I could turn and it made it unbearable sometimes," Bruce Beard explained. The large mass was so debilitating it affected how he stood and what he wore. "It was really getting painful because it was right on my spine and it had gotten so big and the skin was so tight, it was pushing," Beard said. "I usually walked with my head down a bit."

The growth, understandably, shook his confidence. "I always worried about people seeing that big knot back there," Beard said. 

You may be curious what was standing between Bruce and getting that mass removed? Well, it was a lack of insurance. "The reason I put it off was because I could not afford insurance. My insurance, if I bought insurance would take my whole paycheck, so I wouldn't be able to support my family, my daughter," said Beard. 

That all changed the day someone told him about Bethesda health clinic in Tyler.

"It started back in the early 2000's. First Baptist Church and people in the medical community knew the the folks that were working and uninsured didn't have a medical home," said Dr. John English, Bethesda Medical Director and CEO. 

It's a ministry with a mission to provide healthcare to hardworking East Texans who cannot afford insurance or are under-insured. Dr. John English is the CEO and Medical Director. "We probably see about 1,500 to 1,800 patient visits between the medical, dental and nutrition. It continues to grow. We saw an increase again in patients. We've seen that over the last four to five years.

Bethesda has several doctors and dentists on staff, but they also rely heavily on specialists in the area volunteering their time and services.

"Our patient was Bruce and he was referred for a large mass he had on the back of his neck. He'd had it for many years. He didn't have the time or resources to deal with it until it was bothersome to him," said Dr. Elizabeth Sutliff, surgeon and Bethesda volunteer.

Dr. Elizabeth Sutliff assisted in Bruce's case. She's the surgeon who removed the mass weighing heavy on Bruce physically and emotionally. "I realized it was a large mass, bigger than what we normally deal with here under local anesthesia in clinic. Our medical director, nurses, we coordinated with anesthesia to be available here in clinic to put him asleep here in clinic so he would be comfortable during the procedure to take out the large mass." 

"It's incredible. It's like i got my life back, explained Bruce. "It gives me a lot more confidence."

"Cases like this just make it all worth it that your hard work has helped somebody out and affected their life positively," described Dr. Sutliff of the volunteer experience at Bethesda.

But here's the thing, Bruce didn't even know Bethesda existed helping people like him for over 15 years now. They offer weekday clinics and people from local churches help run Saturday clinics.

"So we see folks who are adults that are working between the ages 18-64 and basically we charge them like if they had a set copay for a PPO or HMO. It's a small copay," said Dr. English. "We are one place where all people can come together to help. The churches rallied around it, a christian based clinic to be able to have that feel of the quality. The care is second to none. Our outcomes are as good as anybody and we can do it for a very nominal fee and we can do that because of the community supports it."

It's not a free clinic, but Bruce says Bethesda makes it affordable. "The good thing about Bethesda is you come in, you have to have a job and be working and they assess what your copay is based on how much you make and then when you come in for a visit, you just make a copay. Mine is 30 bucks. Makes it very affordable and they took care of the operation and it didn't cost me anything, other than the copay, but that's the only way I could have gotten this taken care of otherwise it would have kept growing," Bruce said.

He hopes other people don't have to go without medical care like he did. "To have something like this in our community, is amazing," Bruce said.

"We continue to hear stories of lives who are changed, impacted and it just makes you feel good about what you are doing," Dr. English said.

You may be curious about how Bethesda is able to offer this to our community.

Dr. English says about a third of it comes through patient fees, the community support is big at about 40% and the rest is covered through their "Hangers of Hope" thrift stores. It's helped them expand their services. Bethesda has seen a big growth in their mental health services which they're continuing to expand.

If you would like to contact Bethesda, you can visit their website or call: 903-596-8353 for more information.

Introducing our new volunteer coordinator, Emily! We are so excited to have her as a #bethesda team member! If you'd like to volunteer please email ewilson@bethesdaclinic.org. #tylertx #communityhealth