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Out to Lunch ... with Greg Lang

Greg Lang

Greg Lang

WHAT WE ATE

Panera Bread Co.

1 Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich: $7.19

1 Large Iced Tea: $2.19

1 Small Mac & Cheese: $4.99

1 Medium Soda: $1.79

Tax: $0.97

Total: $17.13


DID YOU KNOW

The Good Samaritan Health Center is always looking for volunteers, and especially for physicians and Spanish-language interpreters. Anyone interested in volunteering should visit goodsamgwinnett.org or call 678-280-6630 for more information.

Editors note: "Out To Lunch" is a periodic feature that allows readers a chance to learn about the people behind the titles in Gwinnett County through a lunchtime conversation with a member of the GDP staff. The subject picks the place, we pick up the tab and then share the conversations that occur during the meal.

DULUTH — Contrary to semi-popular opinion, the full implementation of Obamacare will not, in fact, find Greg Lang sitting squarely on his proverbial duff. The executive director of Lawrenceville’s Good Samaritan Health Center — the Club Drive haven for uninsured Gwinnettians to get medical care — will instead do two things.

“Pray,” Lang said recently over a chicken salad sandwich, “and find a larger building.”

Wearing jeans and an untucked, short-sleeved button-up, Lang talked more than ate while perched in a booth at the rear of a Duluth Panera Bread (even as a starved but attentive reporter scarfed down a bowl of mac ‘n cheese). The faith-driven father to two daughters, and long-term mentor to a teenaged orphan, has spent the last two years heading up the Good Samaritan Health Center, where he saw the facility’s numbers nearly double last year, from 3,139 patient visits in 2011 to 5,860 in 2012.

Even so, donors routinely approach him to ask what he’s going to do next year when Obamacare, formally the Affordable Care Act, goes into full swing — assuming, as Lang puts it, that he’ll be out of work because “everyone will have insurance.”

With a corporate background in both the medical field and helping struggling businesses, he mentions the following not with a political agenda but with realism (as a simple statement of fact) and optimism (as an opportunity to serve more of God’s children).

“We’re seeing an increase in the number of people who once had insurance who have lost it, or know that they’re gonna lose it in ’14,” Lang said. “We expect to be busier next year because of Obamacare, not without something to do.”

Lang brought his spiky white hair and PhD in counseling to Good Samaritan several years ago, first serving as a parking lot supervisor (big need plus small lot equals lots of headaches). When the organization changed its business model about three years back, but still struggled, the board began asking Mr. Parking Lot his opinion.

Eventually, he decided he was in line for a promotion.

“I just had such a heart for the place to start with, that I just said, ‘Well, let me do it,’” Lang said.

Now he typically spends 12 hour days at the clinic, which is positioned near the confluence of Lawrenceville, Norcross and Duluth and largely serves the Berkmar school cluster, one in which 86 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches. Almost 60 percent of Good Sam’s patients are Hispanic, and about three-fourths are female. It operates five days a week and is hoping to add Saturdays soon.

The facility is not free. Patients, on average, pay about $59 per visit. Those same visits cost Good Samaritan about $98.

Because its founded on Christian principles — “we pray with patients who want prayer, we hand out Bibles, we have Bible verses on the walls of the office” — the clinic receives no public funding, no taxpayer money. Roughly half of the $65,000 it typically takes to run the office for a month comes from private donors and foundations.

That means, on top of everything else, Lang does a lot of fundraising.

“I’m constantly interviewing volunteers and orienting new students that come to serve with us,” Lang said. “On an emergent basis I can help with counseling ... I am the administrative office. so I pay the bills, take care of the payroll, order the supplies, cut the grass, repair the furniture, plunge the toilet.”

Even so, Lang is hoping to take on more.

Good Sam sees about 45 patients per day in eight exam rooms. Neither is enough. The clinic recently added extended hours on Thursdays (so those who work during the day could make appointments) and Lang, if he can raise the additional $100K or so it would take to make it work for a year, hopes to add Saturday hours by the start of 2014.

Though a formal fundraising campaign hasn’t been launched, Lang said he envisions a new home for Good Sam within the next 18 months — one “even as big as three times” as its current facility, and one with a full-time dental practice.

“I have to raise a lot of money to do that,” Lang said, ballparking it at about $1.5 million. “We currently own the space we’re in. We have a mortgage, but it’s ours, it’s not a lease. There isn’t a lot of built-out medical space where we are right now ... but it really makes no sense to move away from the population that we’re designed to serve.”

“We’re gonna have to find a space that provides enough build-out space and parking, and I’ve got to raise the money to convert a retail shop or a warehouse into a medical office.”

Polishing off a sandwich and potato chips abandoned for the better part of an hour-long conversation, Lang provided a telling example of his facility’s need for more space.

“I had to move three cars in order to get out to come here to this appointment,” he said with a chuckle.