The September 30th official opening of the Engage Free Clinic at the Aydelotte Baptist Church in Shawnee has a special meaning for its founding director, Frank Kelly, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1988 while serving in the U.S. Navy, leaving him partially paralyzed.
“This clinic is a sort of icing on the cake for me personally. I’ve had a lot of medical stresses and struggles over the years and starting this clinic is another personal victory in my effort to pass on the selfless acts of those who have helped me along the way.”
After graduating from Meeker in 1983 and then joining the US Navy, Kelly, was on the back of a motorcycle, heading to his ship in 1988, when an accident threw him nearly 60 feet headfirst into a parked car shattering three vertebrae in his neck and smashing many of his organs.
“They rushed me to Virginia Beach Hospital, the closest facility. I spent months in ICU and almost died several times. But eventually, I was stable enough to be transferred to a navy hospital and then eventually to a VA Rehabilitation hospital in 1989. There were some wonderful people there, but at that time the VA system was killing me. It would take months to get an appointment for infections and wounds that would kill me in weeks. I had to get out,” he said.
Kelly had to give up all of his service-connected benefits in exchange for just Medicare.
“It was a choice between life as a guy in a wheelchair with no money and basic Medicare or all of my VA benefits and a year or two of life. Spinal Cord injuries usually didn’t last long in that system,” he said.
Kelly followed a long hard road, not only walking again but getting active with things such as; competing in long distance bike races, leading church mission trips to other countries being a foster parent between medical battles. He spends a lot of time working at his local church.
“I got married in 1991 and we adopted a daughter. We’ve had a pretty nice life given the circumstances. But a lot of people, both medical, church and others took the time to invest in me along the way.”
So, in November of 2018, when his church was approached to consider the idea of starting a free medical clinic, one would assume Kelly would jump at the chance.
“I didn’t think it was a good idea. Nobody at my church was qualified. A small rural church in the area had closed and with it one of the only free clinics in Lincoln County which the church operated. They approached us about taking the equipment and starting a new clinic at our church 5 miles north of Shawnee,” he said.
Kelly’s pastor, Monte Dean, was intrigued and asked Kelly to look into it.
“After Monte asked me to look into it, I went in with the attitude of making a list of why we shouldn’t do it. But the more I looked, the more I was amazed at how God used normal people to run a thriving free clinic out of a small rural church in one of the poorer areas of the state for years. It began to look like my own journey.”
This caused Kelly to recommend pursuing it, so the church set up a separate non-profit and in February of this year and began running test clinics.
“I spoke with a friend of mine, Kendra Speight, who owns the Downtown Clinic in Shawnee and told her my idea and asked if she would be willing to see some patients at our clinic once a month so we could test our idea.,” Kelly said. “I quickly discovered she, as well as a lot of others were willing to get involved. Heartland Pharmacy in Meeker agreed to run our pharmacy and Ford Insurance helped us with any insurance needs. So then we called up the former patients of the closed clinic and asked if they would be willing to come see our providers while we developed a good clinic model.”
The church gave them some spaces to set up some exam rooms and a waiting area and eventually, a room to build a pharmacy. Kelly began volunteering 30-40 hours a week as its director. They set up, acquired the necessary permits and licenses and started seeing seven to nine patients, one night a month. By the time September arrived, Kelly realized their clinic had provided over $13,000 worth of medical services to uninsured people for free.
“We had perfected our free clinic and pharmacy to the point where a patient could see a provider in our clinic, get lab tests and prescriptions for an average cost to us of $27 per patient. That’s with all volunteers and no government money…all donations,” he said. “Plus, we have a social worker and ministerial staff so we can invest in them, like people did me. We can change lives. We’re situated close to the Pottawatomie/ Lincoln County line in the North Rock Creek area, so we can help Shawnee’s overcrowded health department free clinic as well as reaching out to people in Lincoln County with nowhere to go.”
More professionals are showing interest in volunteering and donations are starting to come in.
“We’re only limited by the number of professionals we have practicing. So we have created an atmosphere where they can pursue their calling. We take care of all the paperwork and red tape. They can come, have a quick meal, see needy patients for a few hours and leave. This is important for doctors and nurses who have already had to work their own practice all day.”
The official Grand Opening of The Engage Free Medical Clinic and non-narcotic Pharmacy in Shawnee will Monday, Sept. 30, 5:30-8 p.m.
Kelly says their grand opening is more of a chance for the public to see what they are doing. them.