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Virginia’s Life-Saving Health Wagon for Appalachia Breaks Ground for a New Clinic in Clintwood

Ground-breaking for the Sister Bernie Kenny Clinic
Ground-breaking for the Sister Bernie Kenny Clinic, Clintwood, Virginia. (Photo: Ethan Collins)

Ground-breaking ceremonies were held yesterday for Virginia’s celebrated Health Wagon and a new clinic in Clintwood in Central Appalachia.  It will provide medical care to a critically underserved population.

Health Wagon is the nation’s oldest mobile clinic and is now building a second free clinic they say is urgently needed.

Dr. Teresa Tyson:  Our people, they die 20 years less than our counterparts on the Eastern Shore

Teresa Tyson is Health Wagon’s Executive Director of the Central Appalachia Clinic that served 4,000 people last year.

Tyson:  It is like the disease belt for every disease out there.  You know, it is the heart belt, it is the lung belt, the diabetes belt, the kidney stone belt.

And she says medical care is often too little, too late.

Tyson:  Every morning, I wake up and it is just on my heart, you know, we’ve got to get out there and we’ve got to find more resources for these patients because patients are dying without access to healthcare.  We feel that access to healthcare is a human right that should not be overlooked.  There are people that are suffering here in the Appalachian Mountains without access to basic healthcare.  I just seen a patient on Tuesday and she was diagnosed with multiple disease conditions. She was a working mother, just struggling to make ends meet.  Two children.   And I diagnosed her with probably four or five different disease elements that day because that’s the way we get our patients into Health Wagon, they are train-wreck patients, they have multiple medical health conditions, they are very sick people.   And sometimes it is very hard as a provider to sort out all of those different entities and treat those different entities.  But we were able at the end of the day to take some of the resources that so many compassionate people that are like-minded have been able to give to the clinic.  You know, we were able to get her an ultrasound, we were able to get her a mammogram, we were able to get her in with an endocrinologist.  We were able to get a renal ultrasound on her kidneys because she had such profound hypertension.  We were able to get her medicines and so forth, like that, so that she could treat her diabetes and things like that.  We gave her a voucher to pay for those.  But at the end of the day, we know that we are making a difference.  That was one life that was saved, a mother of two.  And I know if we hadn’t gotten to her when we did, it wouldn’t have taken very long for her to die at a very early age and so we see that repeated time and time over again at the Health  Wagon.

 The new clinic in Clintwood is named for Sister Bernie Kenny who began the Health Wagon 40 years ago out of the back of a Volkswagen Beetle.

The clinic is set to be completed in June 2020.

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