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Local volunteer honored with award
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Pamela Wright will be honored Tuesday in Richmond as the Nurse Champion of Health Care during the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics’ 20th anniversary gala. Wright is a volunteer with the Caring Hearts Free Clinic in Patrick County. (Bulletin photo)

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Patrick County woman has been recognized with a statewide award for her volunteer work with the county’s free medical clinic.

Pamela Wright will be honored Tuesday in Richmond as the Nurse Champion of Health Care during the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics’ 20th anniversary gala.

Wright, who lives in eastern Patrick County, worked as executive director of the Caring Hearts Free Clinic from 2006 to 2008, according to a letter nominating her for the award. She left the job in fall 2008 to study to become a family nurse practitioner, said the letter, which was written by free clinic Executive Director Susan C. Heath.

For the past several years, in addition to working more than 25 hours a week at Pioneer Family Medical practice, Wright has volunteered with the free clinic weekly as a nurse practitioner. According to Heath, a nurse practitioner can do most things a doctor can do, including diagnosing illnesses and providing referrals.

Wright, a mother of three boys, logged more than 100 hours of volunteer service last year and is serving more than 30 hours a month this year, the letter says.

“These hours do not include the daily assistance that she gives to our clinic,” Heath wrote. “ ... Each day during her lunch hour, Pam stops in to see if there are any labs to be read or prescriptions to be faxed in.”

She also volunteers at special clinics, such as Women’s Health Clinics, Heath noted.

“It is very obvious that Pam cannot stand the thought of a person in need of care leaving without the attention she feels they deserve,” Heath wrote. “She will always take on more patients than scheduled for the day .... Her dedication is relentless!”

As Patrick County’s only free clinic, Caring Hearts sees patients who have no insurance and whose household income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, Heath said. Patients with Medicare or Medicaid are not accepted, she added.

Last year, the clinic’s four part-time employees and volunteer crew of two doctors and several other medical professionals and students saw more than 800 patients, Heath said. There were more than 2,200 patient visits, she added.

“When free clinics were originally established, they were meant to be short-term safety net solutions for patients in between jobs,” Heath said. “ ... but with the downturn of the economy and the loss of industry in the area, now our residents are relying on the clinic as their primary health care provider.”

To provide care, the clinic relies on the volunteer work of Wright and others, as well as in-kind contributions from various sources and funding from the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, local individuals and businesses, and Patrick County.

When Wright initially returned to the free clinic as a family nurse practitioner in 2008, her work was funded by a grant, Heath said. With those grant funds depleted, the clinic is seeking funding so it might pay Wright for part of her time, Heath’s letter says.

According to Heath, the most important aspect of Wright’s work is her attention to patients.

“Patients love her,” Heath said. “They’ll call and ask for appointments with Pam. You can tell they just feel really — we’re supposed to treat the patients with dignity, and Pam really does that. And they can tell.”

Wright, who also is chairman of the clinic’s board of directors, will be honored during the association’s gala Tuesday night at The Westin in Richmond, Heath said. She added that although Wright is honored to be recognized, she is humble and is quick to say she just wants to help.

“I’m thrilled that she’s being recognized for all the service she’s given,” Heath said. “I couldn’t think of anyone that would be more deserving of the award than her. She is just an awesome role model for other citizens who are maybe thinking about trying to be more charitable or more service-oriented.”


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