Less than a quarter-mile from the calm waters of Lake Peachtree and it's picturesque surrounding neighborhoods, an aged one-story structure sits in a concrete parking lot. Inside the doors of the 2,500 square foot concrete building, there are no posh leather chairs and no fancy artwork on the walls. Instead you’ll find, on a clinic night, a group of helping hands and smiling faces belonging to volunteers who pledge to give their time and talent to those seeking medical care.
This is the Healing Bridge Clinic, a volunteer led clinic that provides 100% free, non-emergency care for residents who are underinsured or have no insurance at all and are within 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. The clinic was founded by nurse Ruth McCommon who learned that people in the community were putting their health needs on hold because they had little or no insurance. She faithfully gathered a team and opened the doors of the Healing Bridge Clinic on the horseshoe curve of Willowbend Road in September 2009.
Today, Dr. Ray Bennett is the Medical Director at the Healing Bridge Clinic. At the time he joined the clinic, he was partnering with a medical colleague to run Immediate Care Centers of Georgia in Tyrone. Upon joining the free clinic in Peachtree City, Dr. Bennett offered his talent and time to provide urgent care to visiting adult patients. He says “I have an inherent need to help individuals who are not able to help themselves or do not have the means to do so.”
But giving back was not new to this physician. Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Bennett earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Fisk University and his medical degree from Meharry Medical College. From 2003 to 2005, during his residency at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, the young doctor participated in three medical missions in the Philippines where he provided free treatment to hundreds of patients in poverty-stricken villages and townships. To him, it was a great opportunity to provide help and healthcare to an underserved group in a remote part of the world. “I see myself as a vessel to help others. Lending my talents for the greater good,” Dr. Bennett shares.
As the Healing Bridge Clinic grew with the number of patients seen, the need to oversee the clinic’s mission became more pressing. The Board thought that Bennett was the perfect choice to lead the mission. He now serves as the clinic’s medical director, with a clear vision to continue to grow the clinic in multifaceted ways. Providers at The Healing Bridge Clinic now offer medical services in the areas of general medicine, cardiology, chiropractic, dermatology, orthopedic and podiatry. The clinic also provides mental health services as an after clinic care. Through the support of partnerships, the clinic is able to provide tele-health care at any time of the day for all patients.
The Healing Bridge Clinic is still growing. A few years ago, the clinic’s doors were open only one or two Thursdays a month; now it’s every Thursday. A gynecology program is soon to be launched and free Uber rides will also become available for patients with transportation challenges. In 2020, the clinic provided over 1000 patient visits by hosting 102 clinics, with 25 volunteer providers and a total of over 100 total volunteers. The 2020 volunteer hours served exceeded over 9200 hours, even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The total value of medical care provided in 2020 surpassed 1.2 million dollars.
As a nonprofit, the clinic continues to face challenges. Funding remains one of the primary needs. This would allow the clinic to engage more specialties so that patients are able to prevent medical conditions from progressing. The other big needs are nursing personnel, non-medical volunteers and a larger space. In addition, the clinic seeks talented individuals to aid patients with mental health issues, nutrition and dietary needs. The dream is for the underserved patient population to have a one-stop place to seek medical assistance. This requires continued collaboration and commitment from the local community.
In addition to his role as medical director of the Healing Bridge Clinic, Dr. Bennett continues to keep a busy schedule serving other patients. In 2014, he and his medical partner opened the Wingard Medical Clinic in Peachtree City where he is now director. Specializing in urgent and primary care, his team consists of three other providers and six support employees. Next door to the clinic is Windgard Med Spa that Dr. Bennett recently launched. For more information go to wingardmed.com or call 770-692-7575.