Student clinic brings free telemedicine to patients in need

Dr. Lily White, pictured while she was still a student, meeting with patients via telemedicine through the Open Arms Health Clinic.  CONTRIBUTED
Dr. Lily White, pictured while she was still a student, meeting with patients via telemedicine through the Open Arms Health Clinic. CONTRIBUTED

The pandemic has led to patients having more access than ever to video and phone visits with their doctor, and that also includes patients at a local free clinic.

Since March, current patients who had been going to the Open Arms Student-Run Free Clinic in Bellbrook have been lining up for the option of a virtual waiting room for a video visit or calling in to talk on the phone about their medical concerns.

Dr. Patrick Jonas, medical director for the Open Arms Health Center, said the Open Arms Student-Run Free Clinic has added the remote visits since March to its three programs including its regular Tuesday evening clinic session, its Student Run Free Clinic on the first Saturday each month, and for its Paths to Wellness program the second Saturday each month developed by Dr. Lilian White, who just graduated Wright State medical school. The telemedicine visits are only for existing patients of the clinic.

Dr. Patrick Jonas and Cheryl Froning, RN, at the Open Arms Health Clinic, which is treating patients in Bellbrook. CONTRIBUTED
Dr. Patrick Jonas and Cheryl Froning, RN, at the Open Arms Health Clinic, which is treating patients in Bellbrook. CONTRIBUTED

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The telemedicine program lets students engage with patients under supervision and earn school credit, particularly important as many hospitals have stopped having medical students on the front lines during this time.

Jonas said students get to learn about caring for patients who are uninsured or who are underinsured with still a lot of costs they are responsible for.

And the pace of the free clinic is also a chance to spend some quality time with the patient, Jonas said. This last Saturday, Jonas said a student he was supervising with a patient over telemedicine was able to make conversation with a patient about art and learn about how it matters in medicine to know the context of who a patient is.

“This is an opportunity for them to enhance their humanity type skills … I tell them context is everything. The elbow doesn’t matter unless it’s doing something, going somewhere. We talk about what they are unable to do in their life or what they feel the loss of,” Jonas said.

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The student-run free clinic was organized by Bricey Kepnes Bayonnet, currently a third year Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine student who continues to run the clinic under a student board of directors.

While the students are on the telemedicine side, the clinic still sees some patients in person. Tuesday night the nonprofit hosts free clinic hours for those in need from 6 to 9 p.m., which can be reached ahead at 937-848-2939 and is at the Bellbrook Medical Building at 4403 Ohio 725, Suite E.

With personal protective equipment, Jonas said the clinic has “extensive COVID-19 policies” but as of late last week had 15 weeks worth of N95 masks if the masks are used five times each. Jonas said they expect a breakthrough in masks by the time they run out.

The clinic’s current challenge is also funding and getting nurse volunteers, said Jonas. With the risks posed by the virus, some of the older volunteers have decided to stay home and medical students have taken over roles like running the front desk.

Open Arms Health Clinic was started six years ago by Bellbrook resident and RN Mary Ann Stone with the goal of serving the medical needs of the uninsured and under-insured in the greater Dayton area by providing basic medical services free of charge. About 80% of patients are uninsured and the clinic operates entirely on volunteers and does not have any paid employees.