The idea to start the clinic, which provides free medical services to those without health insurance, came to Glenn Jefferson when he attended a national leadership conference as chief of staff for St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.
LEWISTON, Idaho — When Glenn Jefferson was in high school in Virginia, he had aspirations of becoming a medical missionary.
That’s still on his to-do list, but the Lewiston resident and physician answered another call 16 years ago, when he helped create the Snake River Community Clinic in Lewiston.
“My dad said that when I started the free clinic, that was probably (my) mission,” Jefferson said.
The idea to start the clinic, which provides free medical services to those without health insurance, came to Jefferson when he attended a national leadership conference as chief of staff for St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, in Lewiston.
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“There are lots of things that we could do and there’s a lot of need for the uninsured in our area,” he said at the time.
Then the stars aligned. The hospital supported the idea and helped provide medications; an independent physicians association had seed money and nothing to do with it; and the North Central District Health Department was willing to donate space for a clinic.
“It was just the perfect confluence of circumstances,” Jefferson said.
About 20 medical providers were willing to volunteer their time and services and, nine months later, Jefferson, along with fellow Lewiston physician C. Stamey English, opened the Snake River Community Clinic in September 2000.
“(English) always said that he was a dreamer and I was a doer, because I was determined I was going to get it done in that year,” Jefferson said.
Since the clinic opened, Jefferson said the need for its services has remained. Fewer Washingtonians use the clinic since that state expanded Medicaid, but Idahoans from surrounding towns continue to trek to Lewiston to get medication. (Idaho is one of 19 states that did not expand their Medicaid programs through the Affordable Care Act.)
“Since we see more people from Idaho, we haven’t really seen much of a downtick in the need,” Jefferson said.
Charlotte Ash, the clinic director, said more than 10,000 people have been served since 2000. So far in 2016, Ash said, the clinic’s budget of less than $120,000 has allowed them to give out more than $4.6 million in medications and services.
In the past five years, Jefferson said there has been an increase in demand for mental-health services, which coincided with a shortage of psychiatrists in Idaho. To handle the need, volunteers at the Snake River Community Clinic have become proficient at serving those with chronic mental-health conditions.
At the same time, Jefferson said, the clinic has experienced a “volunteer fade-out,” To make up for the difference, he and others have increased their hours of volunteer service.
It’s one of the only ways Jefferson’s role at the clinic has changed over the years. “I’m just there a little more.” he said.
Ash, who has worked at the clinic since it was founded, called Jefferson one of the clinic’s most dependable volunteers.
“He has true empathy and puts it into action. He doesn’t feel sorry for people — he understands their situation and does something about it,” Ash said.
Jefferson said the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley at large has helped greatly in keeping the clinic going. Both St. Joe’s in Lewiston and Tri-State Memorial Hospital in Clarkston provide funding for medications, and there’s a network of specialists who will accept patients referred to them from the clinic, knowing those patients can’t afford health care.
“I’ve told a lot of people that you need a community that supports you,” Jefferson said, tearing up. “And this has been one of those communities. We just had help all around.”
Jefferson moved to Lewiston in 1987 after a stint with the Air Force. He’d been stationed in Mountain Home previously, and decided while there that he liked the Northwest. After serving in Germany, he returned to the area and interviewed for medical positions in Idaho and Washington.
“This place had the best to offer,” he said of Valley Medical Center in Lewiston, “so this is where I came. Been here ever since.”
Along with a liking for all four seasons, the mountains and outdoor recreation, Jefferson continues to call Lewiston home because both of his children have stayed in town.
Retirement may be in Jefferson’s near future, but he said it’s a “relative thing” for a baby boomer like himself. He’ll likely continue working with medical-school students, who shadow him once a week at the Snake River Community Clinic.
“That’s been fun,” he said. “It’s an energetic group. It’s a good way to re-energize an old person like me.”
Jefferson also holds out hope of one day taking his medical practice abroad.
“It would be interesting to see if I get to do that,” he said.