Cabarrus County: Doctors' caring legacy thrives

Almost 20 years ago, two Cabarrus County doctors wanted to help people who needed medical care but had no insurance.

David Lockhart, a pediatrician, and George Liles, a general surgeon and then-future mayor of Concord, knew that uninsured children could by covered by Medicaid, but uninsured adults likely had no help paying for medical care.

The two close friends founded the Community Free Clinic in Concord in 1994, offering same-day visits to patients who had no insurance.

"They were leaders in the medical community," said Venetia Skahen, director of the clinic. "They broke the mold."

Both physicians died in 2009, but their legacy lives on at the clinic, which now has about 200 regular patients. Volunteer doctors, nurses, pharmacists and administrative professionals work at the clinic.

The clinic only recently changed its practice of seeing walk-in patients, Skahen said. Now all patients are referred to the clinic through the Cabarrus County Department of Social Services.

The clinic works with the countywide Community Care Plan, which sends people in need to DSS, where they also can be screened for eligibility and need for food stamps and other assistance.

"It's much more efficient for the patients as well as for the doctors in the free clinic," Skahen said. The Community Care Plan has about 1,400 clients, and about 200 use clinic, she said.

The free clinic provides adult primary care. The patients' most frequent diagnoses include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and depression or anxiety. The clinic becomes the primary-care home for people who need ongoing treatment, Skahen said. All services are free.

Patients who need more complicated treatment, such as surgery, are referred to a hospital, which also provides free care for free clinic referrals, Skahen said.

The nonprofit provides occasional clinics for dentistry, podiatry and gynecological emergencies.

The clinic also runs a volunteer-staffed pharmacy, where patients get medications and medical supplies for free. More than 500 additional patients who are part of the Community Care Plan use the free clinic's pharmacy, Skahen said.

In 2010, almost 240 volunteers, including more than 40 physicians, donated more than 4,000 hours to the clinic, Skahen said. Some volunteers are medical students and residents.

The clinic is open about 12 hours a week, and the pharmacy is open 22 hours.