Tucked away on a straight, endless strip-mall road in the Air Force Base town of Warner Robins, Georgia sits a church. The landmark in front of their location is the big, red Chick-Fil-A sign, swimming in a sea of fast-food restaurant signs along Watson Boulevard, which dead-ends into the Base entrance. On the first and third Saturdays of every month the church is transformed into a medical clinic, Hands Of Grace, run by Nurse Practitioner Jaimi Norrell. She offers basic health care—absolutely free— to anyone lacking health insurance, whether residents of town, or the homeless.
Despite the fact that the Air Force base employs 25,000 people and the town hosts a 237-bed medical center, there are still those who have no health insurance nor access to health care. That’s why Jaimi decided to reach out with free free medical care to the uninsured, under-served residents of Houston County and surrounding area as a ministry through her church, Abundant Grace Church.
Jaimi is a tall, tough-as-nails ER nurse who cut her nursing teeth at a nearby Level One Trauma hospital for ten years. She went on to become a licensed Nurse Practitioner and eventually noticed the large number of underserved residents in her beloved home town of Warner Robins. "No one should have to be stressed out or risk their health because they can’t afford it,” she states.
On a recent Saturday at the clinic, the mood is laid back, friendly, all smiles from the twelve volunteers that include two Nurse Practitioners, two Registered nurses, an EMT and a pre-med student studying at nearby Mercer University. Pastor Daron Gray is working in his office, which happens to be at the front entrance to the church, where he greets each patient after they are discharged from medical treatment, with the offer to pray for or give advice to them.
One woman is in tears, anxious about a loved one who is ill, and Pastor Gray prays with and encourages her. She leaves with a church card in one hand and tear-soaked tissues in the other. Hands of Grace has ministered to her with medical and spiritual care, which is the goal of the clinic. Jaimi writes on the clinic’s Facebook page that they will treat minor medical problems such as rashes, sore throat, or muscle strain, but also chronic illnesses in adults such as hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
At this point Hands of Grace is sharing space in the inner rooms of the church, but is expanding this week from two exam rooms to six, taking over a large hall formerly dedicated to youth services. Jaimi is all smiles as she points to the corner of the make-shift office where she works at a huge pile of donated supplies such as bandages, diagnostic equipment and non-narcotic medicines. She glides around the room in her long white coat—her baby nearby in a car seat, asleep—and lights up the room with her laughter and enthusiasm for the clinic and the patients checking in non-stop during the six hours the clinic is open.
Daron Gray, pastor and also full-time police officer pokes his head into the clinic office after lunch and exchanges friendly, verbal jabs with Jaimi. A nearly palpable warmth fills the room as they chat and swap a few stories, leaving quickly to man his post at his office so he doesn’t miss any opportunities to speak to discharged patients. He seems genuine, and judging by the conversation with Jaimi fully aware that this is the intended mission of the church: to reach out to people.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are 27 million people, ten percent of the population, without health insurance. The U.S. remains the sole industrialized nation in the world without universal health care coverage. Jaimi Norrell intends to do something about that number in her own community of 67,000 residents by operating Hands of Grace, only a block away from a 237-bed medical center. She has worked with the hospital to coordinate clinic patients receiving low-cost lab work or x-rays, and has also connected to a local pharmacy to help with prescriptions written at the clinic.
"About a year ago God placed on my heart that there are people in Middle Georgia praying for help with their healthcare,” Norrell said. She obviously picked the right location: in the arms of a thriving, growing local church, where she attends. I am in awe of her selfless ambition to serve with the gifts and skills she has, her big heart for people, and the opportunity she gives to those in need. The world needs more Jaimi Norrells.
Stuart Kent, RN and volunteer