Helping at ‘pop-up’ medical clinic hard work for Corps volunteer

Huntsville Center Public Affairs
Published July 27, 2016
William Noel oversaw the distribution of more than 8,000 bottles of water during the "Your Best Pathway to Health" event July 12-14 in Beckley, West Virginia.

William Noel oversaw the distribution of more than 8,000 bottles of water during the "Your Best Pathway to Health" event July 12-14 in Beckley, West Virginia.

“Rewarding, surprising and a lot of hard work,” is how William Noel, a project manager at the Corps of Engineers Huntsville Center describes his work volunteering at a “pop-up” medical clinic operated by “Your Best Pathway to Health” July 12-14 in Beckley, West Virginia.  All medical, dental and other services were provided without charge, and volunteers paid their own travel and lodging expenses to participate.

Noel was assigned to the Venue Services team that did the hard work of unloading equipment and supplies from seven long-haul trailers, setting up the event in the Beckley Convention Center, supporting operations over three days, then tearing it all down and loading it back onto the trucks.  His daughter, Breanna, accompanied him and worked as a patient escort.  The pair were among 734 volunteer doctors, nurses and others from around America and several foreign countries who staffed the event.

“We worked some very long days and late into the night getting everything ready to open the clinic on Wednesday morning,” he said.  “When we got to the hotel at night we just dropped into bed.”  One of his tasks through the week was overseeing the supply and distribution of the more than 8,000 bottles of water that were consumed. 

Arriving at 6 a.m. each morning to have everything ready to open at 7, they were surprised to find more than 100 people waiting in line to receive medical and dental services, free clothing and haircuts.  “Some of them had slept in their cars to be sure they could get in. That’s the stuff you hear about happening in poor countries but not in America, yet we were seeing it with our own eyes,” he said.  “The stories I heard most often were from people who had jobs and insurance but who couldn’t afford the deductibles.  One man told me his insurance deductible was $5,000 for each of the five members of his family so there was no way they could afford to see a doctor.  He really appreciated us being there.” 

Coal mining has been a major industry in West Virginia and environmental restrictions on the use of coal have impacted the local economy severely.  That hardship was complicated by severe flooding a couple weeks before the clinic, which was planned months in advance.  “The people of West Virginia have a long, proud history of working hard and looking out for their neighbors, and they were very appreciative of the help.  We heard it in places like the checkout at Wal-Mart and Lowe’s when people saw our team shirts,” he said.  “While no count of flood victims was made, several patients that I met told us they had lost homes or knew people who had lost their homes or suffered damage.”

The clinic expected to treat 1,500 patients but the actual number was 1,722.  In addition to free medical and dental services, they also were offered free hair styling and clothing.  Patients were also offered free health education classes on a list of topics over the following weeks.

One young woman Noel met in the registration line was obviously pregnant but didn’t even know her due date because she had received no prenatal care.  “She was surprised to learn that we had several OB/GYN doctors and that we even had fetal ultrasound.  I saw her again on her way out and she told me she had a due date, she’d had an ultrasound and that her baby was healthy.  Seeing the smile on her face was one of the moments that made all the hard work worthwhile.”

Working in Venue Services meant Noel had only occasional contact with patients.  One encounter was with a mother and her two young daughters in the parking lot.  Each had had their eyes checked and was carrying a bag of clothes.  When asked if anything special had happened, the youngest, whom he guessed was around six, declared with excitement, “I got some baby doll clothes for my teddy bear!”