By Erika Webb
Mary Gusky was in a hospital bed in 2006 recuperating from surgery to remove a pancreatic tumor. The tumor was benign. Ms. Gusky concluded there was work yet to be done. God, she figured, had spoken.
A few weeks later Ms. Gusky sat in a pew at St. Peter Catholic Church in DeLand, listening to Father Tom Connery talk about helping the sick and uninsured.
Ms. Gusky got busy, really busy.
As the administrator for the Good Samaritan Health Clinic in DeLand, her duties are many, the rewards without limit.
The first patients were seen at the clinic's new facility on March 13 at 136 E. Plymouth Ave. The building, which originally was designed to accommodate a large real estate office, proved well-suited for patient care.
The 5, 089-square-foot building contains 1,389 more square footage than the former DeLand medical and Orange City dental facilities combined.
Ten offices have been turned into state-of-the-art exam and procedure rooms, all featuring brand new medical and dental equipment.
Good Samaritan Health Clinic exists solely on donations. Local medical professionals donate time; organizations and individuals give money. Grants are procured through the West Volusia Hospital Authority, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"The DeLand rotaries and Junior Service League are very supportive of us," Ms. Gusky said.
The effort to obtain a new building started with a fundraiser by the clinic's medical director Dr. Lyle Wadsworth and his wife, Gail. Ms. Gusky said they were able to secure enough donations for the down payment and renovations.
TD Bank provided the mortgage.
"They were amazing. They never said no," Ms. Gusky said.
The medical clinic has served more than 6,404 patients since opening in 2007 in a building at 312 W. New York Ave. owned by St. Peter Church Parish. The dental clinic opened in Orange City in 2009 and has served 760.
"As of the end of the year, volunteer hours totaled (the equivalent of) over $1 million and that's a conservative number," Ms. Gusky said.
Good Samaritan's patient population consists of adults 18 to 64 with the heaviest concentration in the 25-50 age range.
"One of our goals is to reduce visits to the ER, stuff that isn't an emergency, like a sore throat or cough," she said. "(ER treatment is) very expensive and we're all taxpayers. If you walk through those doors as a non-paying patient, that's my money."
Among the most commonly treated illnesses at Good Samaritan are diabetes, COPD, asthma, hypertension and anxiety, Ms. Gusky said.
"Anxiety is a big deal," she explained. "Our psychiatrist is booked through May."
The medical clinic is open 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Dental patients are seen from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays.
Clinic hours revolve around the schedules of its volunteer practitioners who donate their time "after hours."
"The thing that humbles me is that we have the best in town," Ms. Gusky said. "Every volunteer, be it MD, dentist, RN or ARNP, they want to be here. You see it in their faces and you see it with the patients. They've never stopped coming."
Without governing interference, the medical professionals are free to "practice medicine the way they want to practice," Ms. Gusky said.
Since the clinic doesn't have the money for extravagances, she said they sometimes have to think outside the box to find solutions to patients' medical issues.
"The patients are so grateful," Ms. Gusky said.
The Good Samaritan application for treatment process is fairly simple.
Applicants must: Be a resident of West Volusia County; be at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below; cannot have medical insurance coverage.
Meeting the criteria allows the applicant to receive a qualifying packet containing questions about income, family, residence, marital, employment and insurance status.
Ms. Gusky said once the form is completed and submitted, the notification process for qualification takes only a week or two.
Father Tom Connery said it's hard to pinpoint the exact point at which he decided to create a medical center for the underserved.
"There was so much in the paper and on the news about so many people not having access to healthcare," Father Connery said in a phone interview. "The building was available ... we thought about using it for a meeting room or a youth center, but I didn't want the kids crossing the street. So when John (Joslin), a Baptist minister approached me and we talked, we decided to start (a clinic) there."
A local pastor, Rev. Joslin, and his wife, Pat, were both nurses who planned and helped to start a clinic for the underprivileged in Jacksonville. The clinic was a success and when the couple saw the same need upon relocating to DeLand, Rev. Joslin and Father Connery began to discuss the possibility of creating a similar healthcare facility in West Volusia. Included in those initial brainstorming sessions was Cathy Puhr, ARNP, then an interim parish nurse.
Father Connery said Ms. Puhr's input and participation were invaluable to the endeavor.
Among the topics discussed: location and feasibility.
Many local medical professionals joined the effort early on and a committee was formed. Founding members included Rev. Joslin, RN; Father Connery; Cathy Puhr, RN; Dr. Lyle Wadsworth; Pat Joslin, RN; Dr. Daniel Negrete; and Dr. Lawrence Gilliard.
Dr. Gilliard served as the clinic's medical director for five years, before closing his DeLand medical practice. He continues to volunteer at Good Samaritan.
Late that year Ms. Gusky, a former pediatric practice manager, joined the effort.
Funds were immediately needed to improve the building.
"My idea of fundraising was writing a check," Ms. Gusky said.
She quickly learned that to ask is to receive.
"Dr. Wadsworth approached Florida Hospital DeLand and asked them to host a dinner," Ms. Gusky said. "There were 220 people. We made almost $20,000 and it didn't cost us anything. Quality Quickprint donated printing and First United Methodist donated the facility. Florida Hospital paid for the dinner."
"It was an amazing thing," she added.
Equally amazing was the amount of work done in the building, all by volunteers who cleaned and painted. Ace Hardware donated the paint. Dr. Gilliard, who had closed his Altamonte Springs office, donated his office equipment.
Since opening, Ms. Gusky said the clinic has been provided with more than $600,000 in medication from pharmaceutical companies.
"One patient with rheumatoid arthritis gets two injections per month. That's $2,300 per month at the Walmart price," she said. "We've provided those, totaling $55,000."
The clinic provides Walmart Pharmacy cards for less expensive medications, but does not prescribe narcotics and does not have any of those drugs on the premises, she added.
In a down economy, people are waiting longer before seeking treatment for medical issues, Ms. Gusky said.
"We're seeing the face of the new poor," she explained. "They've always been able to take care of their family, even if it's paycheck to paycheck. They don't know what to do, what steps to take."
Many churches, other organizations and individuals donate to the clinic on a monthly basis.
"Some are $10, some $20, some $100 ... I don't care if it is $10. It doesn't matter how great or small, they're all gratefully accepted and appreciated," Ms. Gusky said.
Father Connery cannot say enough about Ms. Gusky's tireless efforts.
"I chose the right person," he said. "It's beyond my expectations, what Mary has done."
Ms. Gusky gives the credit to a higher power.
"How else could we practice for five and a half years solely on donations and be in as good a position as we are?" she said. "It's a God thing."