PRINCETON – Thirty minutes before 5 p.m., Diane Cooper runs into the basement of the Central Presbyterian Church, preparing doctors ‘offices and nurses’ rooms for patients to receive free health care.
At 4:45 p.m., she is outside to help with community donations. Everything from braces, slings and crutches is donated. Local medical supply stores also donate items.
Church members, health professionals, and other community members identified an opportunity to serve as community stewards and opened the free Caldwell County clinic in 1999. It is supported through donations and community grants.
What once served as Sunday school space in the church basement is now occupied by the clinic. It was designed to reach any eligible resident in need of medical care and services.
At the corner of Main and Harrison Streets in downtown Princeton, the Free Clinic sign is pinned to the church lawn on Thursdays to promote service from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Cooper joined the invitation. She said she went to church with one of the co-founders.
Consistent with other closed services, COVID-19 has affected the clinic’s volunteer pool, treatments, and walk-in patients. Cooper said since the pandemic there have been fewer patients seeking services at the clinic.
“Sanctuary House would come once a month and they would see people here, but when the pandemic hit it all stopped,” Cooper said.
She added that the clinic is operating at a lower capacity, but remains essential. Before the pandemic, the clinic partnered with local churches to organize a fundraiser for cookies.
“Until last year, when the pandemic hit, we took a cookie walk every year,” Cooper said. “All the churches and people in the area brought cookies. “
Revenue from sales of foot cookies has run into the thousands, she said. The clinic has not organized a cookie walk since 2019.
The clinic is equipped with a pharmacy, private rooms, a full-size lobby, reception desk, and medical grade equipment and technology. Services include treatment of colds, flu, minor injuries, chronic disease management, lab tests, x-rays, and prescription drugs. The clinic volunteers also give referrals.
“We use DACs, we use pretty much anybody we can get,” Cooper said.
Volunteers are both active and retired licensed professionals. Cooper brings many volunteers herself as well as her own medical expertise – she retired after working in the medical field for over 40 years.
Volunteers from as far away as Paducah have provided services and expertise, she noted.
Currently, the clinic does not offer COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, however, Cooper said, “It’s just something we haven’t addressed. We don’t want to take away the things that are already being done there. “
Patients must be 18 years of age or older, uninsured, live in Caldwell, Lyon and Crittenden counties, or Dawson Springs, have an employed household member, and meet federal poverty guidelines as outlined in the brochure. In addition, patients must bring identification and proof of income, such as a pay stub or tax documents.
Cooper recommends that patients call ahead (270-365-0901) on Thursdays to confirm an appointment or staff availability. The clinic is open the first and third Thursday of each month.