“You are my last hope.”
That’s what many new patients tell staff at the Hope Center, a medical mission established by 3 Circle Church, Fairhope.
“That’s why God gave us the name Hope,” said Hope Center Director Dana Smith.
She was working as a nurse at Newton Elementary School when she was approached by church leadership about their vision to establish a center — modeled after a similar one in Florida — to serve low-income community members.
“They asked me to pray about it with them,” Smith said.
After a year or so of praying and imagining what the center would look like, 3 Circle Church leaders asked her to serve as director and she began in July 2009.
“It just flowered from there,” Smith said. “I felt that was what God had been preparing my heart for.”
Smith had led medical missions out of the country for a number of years, but even though she served as a school nurse, she had never worked in a doctor’s office. She had much to learn before plans were finalized to create what would eventually become not only a doctor’s office, but also a dental practice and counseling center.
Drawing inspiration from similar, but not identical, faith-based medical providers such as Victory Health Partners in Mobile, plans finally came together for the Hope Center, and building commenced.
“I hung Sheetrock in this place,” Smith recalled.
Counseling services were offered a few months after opening, and dental services a month later. Medical services began in February 2010.
Eleven years later, the center now provides virtually all health services for more than 7,000 patients hailing from throughout southwest Alabama and east to Pensacola.
More than 100 physicians, dentists and counselors donate a minimum of four hours per month at the Hope Center.
“Then we plug in nurses, lab techs, dental hygienists, all the other health care people that hold the doctors up and provide the foundation for all these services,” Smith noted.
Many of the support personnel also volunteer.
The Hope Center is funded by 3 Circle Church, and is located directly behind the church at 10274-A State Highway 104 in Fairhope. A 501c3 charity organization, the center also is supported financially and with volunteers from other area churches and organizations.
Patients are asked to pay $15 per exam, “but it’s not about the money,” Smith said. “It’s about taking responsibility for your health.”
If the patient can’t pay, they still receive care. Many are seeing a doctor for the first time in years.
“We quite often see women who have never had a gynecological exam,” Smith lamented. “They might have had a knot or a sore for years. They have no money. No insurance. They’re scared.”
To allay those fears, Smith said, the center refers women who qualify financially (and that’s most of them) to a free state program — Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection — to make sure they keep up with regular screenings.
The ongoing COVID pandemic has only heightened the need for Hope Center services.
Working with Thomas Hospital in Fairhope, the center has provided thousands of COVID-19 tests and vaccines. The economic downturn resulting from the pandemic has added many new patients, some who are referred by a nearby faith-based food pantry.
“We’ve seen a lot of people who’ve lost their jobs and insurance. They don’t know the resources available to them,” Smith said.
Every day the Hope Center sees people at the end of their rope — fearing an untreated, and possibly life-threatening, disease; painful dental problems; exhaustion from caring for a loved one.
“We see a lot of people who come in and tell us we’re their last hope,” Smith said. “We love to help in any way we can with our community and in our service to other people.
“It’s about giving them the care they need as a complete person — mentally, emotionally. Whatever they’re carrying, we want to help them with that.”
To volunteer or donate contact Smith at dana@3CircleHope.com or 251-445-2273, ext. 1.