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Doctor: Free clinic busier than anticipated

The doctor running Cleburne’s new free clinic said Thursday he was not prepared for such a tremendous need. “I had no idea things were so bad here,” said physician Tony Torres, creator and president of the free HOPE Clinic. “I figured we’d start slowly with appointments one day a week, but today alone we saw 30 patients.” Shaking his head in dismay, he said the clinic would be up to three days of appointments per week next week. And Torres is a busy man besides what is going on at the clinic. He recently returned from a medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic in which 2,000 patients were seen. He is the pastor of the Cleburne Seventh-day Adventist Church. And he is planning an anti-drug rally for children April 29. It’s no wonder he is training an assistant pastor. With operations under way at the clinic, which opened earlier this year, Torres said he has a better feel for the community needs. He has forged collaborations with H-E-B, Wal-Mart, Harris Methodist Walls Regional Hospital, the Cleburne Lions Club, Quest Labs — which does the clinic’s lab tests and blood tests for free — and the Tarrant County Department of Health. Soon he will go to Huguley Memorial Medical Center to speak to the medical staff there about volunteering in his clinic. In the works are plans to break through the wall of his dental suite and into the adjacent room so he can accommodate three dental stations in the one room. He has received a donation of dental chairs, compressors, X-ray equipment and lights from a retiring dentist and is in the planning stages of teaming with the Lions Club to provide vision and glaucoma screening and free eyeglasses to those who need them and cannot afford them. “And it’s not just the poor who are coming in,” Torres said. “It’s people without jobs, people whose jobs don’t offer health insurance and also people who have just fallen on hard times. I never would have realized before I started this how bad things have gotten. Do you know that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without universal health care? The only one. It’s unbelievable in a country like this. One fourth of all Americans don’t have health insurance. None. GM puts more money into health care now than it puts into steel. Starbucks pays more for health care than it puts into coffee beans. This really is a crisis, and it really puts America at a disadvantage. You stop to wonder why cars and everything else is so expensive? A lot of it has to do with health care. If we wait for the government, there are a lot of people who will be suffering terribly in the meantime. That’s why this clinic is here.” Thus far, the clinic has dealt with everything from AIDS to runaway infections. “We’re seeing a lot of diabetes,” he said, “so soon we’re going to be starting classes on diabetes management and also smoking cessation. We’ve been fortunate.” The Association of Free Clinics has given him a number of glucometers and test strips for diabetic patients to monitor their blood sugar. The clinic is also able to provide insulin and syringes to diabetic patients. “Thank God we have our nursing students,” Torres said. “We’d be lost without them.” In the meantime, because of the unexpected growth of his project, Torres has found the need to learn a new skill — writing grants to fund his work. “We’re not asking for anything in return. We’re not in competition with anyone,” Torres said. “We just want to make sure that people don’t suffer unnecessarily.” Michael Mager can be reached at 817-645-2441, ext. 2338, or

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