Patients who come to the Guadalupe Free Clinic in Colonial Beach aren’t the only ones helped by the facility.
Many of the volunteers who drive an hour or more from points in the Fredericksburg area to work with uninsured residents—to monitor their ongoing diabetes, check their cholesterol levels or diagnose their upper-respiratory ailments—also find healing at the clinic.
Its back door opens to a crystal-clear view of the Potomac River, and on a breezy day in January, seems a world away from the hustle-bustle of urban life.
“There’s a whole benefit to driving away from Northern Virginia,” said Father Francis de Rosa, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church, whose campus includes the clinic. “People like to come down here, it’s a destination. It’s good to see the water and get away from everything.”
Lance Carrington would agree, saying he’s happy anytime he’s not on Interstate 95. His wife, Rosie, started volunteering at the clinic 10 years ago, then talked him into joining her.
As she translated for the Spanish speakers the facility serves, he did their paperwork. He was still working for the federal government at first—and making the god-awful commute from Aquia Harbour to Washington. When he retired in July, he became the clinic’s director.
She continues to teach foreign languages at St. William of York Catholic School in North Stafford, and both make the 75-minute trip to Colonial Beach at least twice a week.
They’re among several husband–wife teams who volunteer. Dr. Ryan Anderson, a family practitioner, and his wife, Adele, call their regular shift at Guadalupe “their date night.”
“We go out to dinner while we’re here,” Lance Carrington said.
“Make a day of it,” chimed in Dr. Harold Bautista, a plastic surgeon in Fredericksburg who recently started volunteering at Guadalupe. He said he felt like a medical student again—”in a good way”—and has been inspired to refresh his knowledge of outpatient medicine.
Bautista and his wife, Carolina, volunteer at the clinic with their 12-year-old daughter, Isabella.
“We’re all about the family,” said Rosie Carrington.
The Guadalupe Free Clinic operates in a small, yellow cottage on the campus of the church. The building is almost a century old, and its slanting floors and shifting foundation show its age. The recent spate of cold weather did a number on the home’s old pipes.
Volunteers would say the cramped spaces, in which people regularly duck so they won’t hit their heads or have to stop to let another pass through the narrow hallways, give the clinic a cozy feeling.
Patient Ted Williams, 64, is simply glad it’s there. He lives in Colonial Beach and has been coming to the clinic for about two years, since he had a stroke.
“They spend a lot of time with me,” he said about doctors, nurses and pharmacists who explain medications and assess his condition. “I can’t believe they come all the way out here for free. They must like us, I guess.”
While the clinic operates within the framework of the church, it relies on donations for operating funds. Mary Washington Hospital Foundation is its chief benefactor, and donations also come from area churches and individuals, the director said.
Doctors are able to refer patients who need tests, surgeries or other procedures to Mary Washington Health Care, Sentara Healthcare or VCU Medical Center, said Dr. Dan Muldoon, the facility’s medical director since it opened in 2005.
That’s how he was able to get testing—and surgery—for the clinic’s first patient, a woman who didn’t know she had breast cancer. She was treated and came back to the clinic as a volunteer.
Others have been referred for treatment of other types of cancer or have needed procedures such as quadruple bypasses, Muldoon said.
“If we didn’t have the people in the community to offer their services,” he said about radiologists, surgeons and other specialists, “we couldn’t do what we do here.”
The clinic is open to Westmoreland County residents only who have no health insurance and whose incomes are under 200 percent of federal poverty levels. For a family of four, that’s about $49,000.
The facility is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and serves patients age 18-64. About 100 medical people, including doctors and nurses, pharmacists and phlebotomists, have signed up to help, but there’s a core of 12 to 15 people who volunteer regularly, Lance Carrington said.
Father de Rosa said “one of the marvels of the place” is how workers are able to stretch a dollar. Because there’s low overhead at the clinic, Lance Carrington said the facility can provide $1,200 worth of medical services for every $100 donated.
The clinic has about 1,290 patients, who made 2,000 visits in 2017. About half of the patients are Hispanics who work for nearby landscaping firms or in seafood processing plants.
The clinic’s volunteers fill out the massive paperwork necessary to get free medicine from drug-manufacturing companies through the Pharmaceutical Assistance Program. In 2017, Guadalupe received more than $286,000 worth of prescription medicines.
“It’s a huge impact on a little town,” de Rosa said.