Health center seeking help after closing

LAWRENCEVILLE -- "We're all going to die."

Kimberly Adams says that was the word-for-word reaction of one long-time patient of Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett when she found out the facility would be temporarily closing its doors.

Good Samaritan, which has provided health care for the indigent in Lawrenceville since 2004, is facing an economic crisis. It closed for regular business on July 30, no longer able to function on its current business model.

Many of its 500 or so patients a month -- like the aforementioned -- are left without affordably priced health care, said Adams, the center's executive director.

"At first I thought she was being a little dramatic," Adams said Monday. "But in many cases it will be life or death. It's not like there are so many clinics all over town waiting to give care to people with no money and health problems."

Good Samaritan has seen more than 4,000 patients a year, with many factors playing into a recent surge. An increase in working poor patients, more people on unemployment and fewer people concerned about places like Good Samaritan since the passing of national health care reform have all "made demand outpace capacity," Adams said.

All that, along with several grants being deferred, has necessitated a temporary hiatus for the clinic, which offers care at extremely reduced cost to patients.

Good Samaritan now desperately needs donations.

"With all those things happening simultaneously, it has created the perfect storm to make us stopping for right now necessary," Adams said. "It's been tough. It's heartbreaking. Patients were crying in the hallways."

Good Samaritan previously operated on a system that had paid physicians supplemented by volunteer staff, and that didn't come cheap. Now they'll take time to regroup and restructure their business model before hoping to reopen in September.

A purely volunteer-based care system is a possibility, Adams said.

"We know these people, and they know us, so it's tough," she said. "We have the support of some of our community, but it's really going to take support from the entire community."