Several weeks after deadly wildfires swept through East Tennessee in late 2016, it became obvious to Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, MD, that it was time to bring the Diocese of Knoxville’s mobile medical mission to residents living in Gatlinburg and surrounding communities.
Photo Gallery: (photos by Emily Booker)
On April 27, after several months of investigation and planning, Sister Mariana, who serves as the medical director for the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, sat behind the wheel and drove the mammoth 40-foot, 10-wheeled vehicle from its headquarters at Divine Mercy Church in Knoxville, some 45 miles through tourist traffic in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, and into Gatlinburg, where she navigated narrow streets and tight intersections, before arriving at St. Mary Church, where its pastor, Father Antony Punnackal, was waiting to greet her.
The mobile clinic’s first visit to Gatlinburg addressed a need also recognized by Bishop Richard F. Stika and Father David A. Boettner, a vicar general for the diocese, both of whom encouraged Sister Mariana to move ahead with her plans to provide medical assistance for residents who are uninsured and have no viable options for care.
On the initial visit, Sister Mariana and her staff saw 9 patients.
Before seeing Sister Mariana inside the mobile clinic, which contains two separate examination rooms, the patients started their appointment inside St. Mary Church. Meeting rooms were set-up to accommodate registration and triage – where volunteer nurses were able to take measurements of vitals signs like pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. Once the necessary questions were asked and a profile was created, the patients were escorted individually into the mobile clinic to see Sister Mariana, a licensed physician.
While patient profiles are protected and confidential, Sister Mariana has described the care provided as “bread and butter family medicine” issues common to those who may not have a regular doctor. Many of the cases are “lifestyle related illnesses”, she has said.
The St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic will visit Gatlinburg monthly. The clinic also visits five other rural communities in East Tennessee: Athens, Crab Orchard, Decatur, Rutledge, and Washburn.