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Free medical clinic being planned for West Milford

by Gail Marsh

STAFF WRITER

The West Milford Community Center in southern Harrison County is a busy place.

Senior citizens, the Lion's Club, Head Start, a Citizen's Action Committee, a karate class, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, a homemaker's club and a number of other organizations make use of the spacious, brick building located near the elementary school.

City offices and an emergency squad satellite post are also located in the center. And beginning this summer, the center could be home to a free medical clinic in the building's north wing.

"We already have a lab, an examining room, a reception room and a room with two beds set up. We've come a long way toward our goal," said Roy Smith, longtime mayor of West Milford and one of the clinic's supporters.

The idea for a free clinic goes back a few years. Smith said he was approached by Sister Mary Rebecca Fidler, better known as Barbara by those who grew up with her in West Milford.

"I had felt for a long time that we needed something like this for our citizens, and Barbara has helped to bring it all together," the mayor said.

Fidler belongs to the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, an order that works to help the poor. Starting a free clinic fits into the Sisters' mission, Fidler said.

"Our mission is to help the economically poor, especially women and children. What better place than to do it here in West Virginia?

Fidler is a registered lab scientist and has a doctorate in anatomy. She taught at the college level for more than 20 years in Iowa. She was in charge of health sciences at Salem College and served there as dean and provost until going to Holy Cross in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to help set up a cancer center.

She returned to the area when her mother, a retired school teacher, needed care.

"I grew up here and these are my people. I understand the culture and know how to interact without destroying their dignity. I can do a better job by serving here," she said.

The clinic will be named the Susan Dew Hoff Clinic, to honor the state's first female doctor. Dew Hoff, born in 1842, practiced for nearly 40 years in the West Milford area, making house calls on horseback. She followed in the footsteps of her father, Dr. William H. Dew, who also practiced in Harrison County.

The clinic has a board of directors, which Fidler heads, and already has secured non-profit status. All of the equipment has been donated to the clinic, and several organizations have put up seed money, including $5,000 from the Sisters of Mercy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and $2,500 from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wheeling to be used for direct services. Furnishings, money and services have also been provided by individuals, Fidler said.

Plans are to initially open the clinic one evening a week to accommodate working people who have no health insurance. Children are often covered by a state medical program, but it's the adults, the working poor, who are neglected.

"The idea is to reach those people who put off going to the doctor until it's absolutely essential. If it comes between going to the doctor or paying the water bill, what are they going to do?" she said.

The clinic will be equipped to offer basic lab services, along with blood pressure and diabetes testing and a number of other medical services.

"We want to be able to find out what people need in order to help them. If it's medical, we can offer that. If they need counseling, we are fortunate to have a Methodist minister who is a certified counselor. We hope to do health promotion programs and offer screenings as funding allows," she said.

Maggie and Ron Fisher of West Milford also serve on the board of directors of the clinic. Maggie Fisher said the clinic will help to meet a need in the close-knit community.

"This is a small community and there is a lot of pride, but there are people in need of health care who are neglected because they can't afford it. What I hope to see is a freedom for people to come forward to get help without having their dignity tested," she said.

Though she expects some challenges, Fidler said she remains positive about the clinic's ability to succeed.

"I've been told we can't do this, but I tell them it's not that you can't but that you won't. If it's supposed to be, it will happen and nothing will stop it," she said.

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