Dr. Jubril Oyeyemi said this past Saturday perfectly encapsulates what inspires him about the Cherry Hill Free Clinic’s volunteers. As the snow fell and the temperatures hovered below freezing, the entirely volunteer staff of the Cherry Hill Free Clinic made its way to the clinic to open an hour earlier than usual. Despite the weather, the staff members arrived with a positive attitude and were ready to spend the next several hours providing care to those in need.
Oyeyemi, who founded the clinic nearly three years ago, isn’t the only one who recognizes the hard work that the staff is putting in. Oyeyemi and the Cherry Hill Free Clinic team were awarded the Martin Luther King Congressional Medal on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Each year, a handful of Camden County residents are awarded the Camden County MLK Freedom Medal for their “selfless contributions to improving their community.” The award is given to community leaders whose actions and ideals reflect the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Congressional Medal recognizes the same qualities and attributes in its recipients. The distinguishing factor is that U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ-1) is solely responsible for choosing a recipient and awarding it, according to Kyle Sullender of the Camden County Office of Communications and Community Affairs.
At 16 years old, Oyeyemi graduated from high school in Nigeria and came to the United States to study medicine. Upon finishing his residency requirements, he joined Virtua Health as a hospitalist working with patients in the emergency room at Virtua Marlton. It was an encounter with a 52-year-old school teacher that sparked the idea for the clinic.
The teacher was admitted to the ER with chest pains, and while the doctors were gathering her history, Oyeyemi learned that the woman had suffered a heart attack once before. She was not currently taking any medications because she couldn’t afford to pay for her follow-up visits, and without a follow-up, she couldn’t get a refill on her prescription. Oyeyemi thought there had to be another way to fill prescriptions for those without insurance or those who couldn’t afford to see a doctor.
Not long after, the Cherry Hill Free Clinic was born. His Muslim community, notably the Gracious Center of Learning & Enrichment activies, provided funding for the space; Walgreens provided immunizations; CVS provided supplies; Lourdes donated exam tables and Virtua donated computers, furniture and subsidized lab and radiology services.
The clinic is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and appointments are completely free for patients. The staff of 30 volunteer doctors and nurses see patients for conditions that are typically treated by a primary care physician.
Each room has a binder that lists all of the lowest cost medications, and physicians will also use an app to scan all of the local pharmacies to see where certain medications are cheapest for their patients. For those who can’t afford to refill their medication, the clinic has partnered with CVS Pharmacy. Patients can present a voucher to CVS to have their prescriptions refilled, and CVS will, in turn, bill the Cherry Hill Free Clinic at subsidized cost.
Oyeyemi said it was humbling to learn his team was receiving the congressional medal.
“To think of the legacy of someone like Dr. King and all he did in terms of service and self-sacrifice [and] to know that the Cherry Hill Free Clinic was being honored in this light was just amazing,” Oyeyemi said.
At discharge, the clinic solicits feedback from patients. People write about being afraid or unable to go to the doctor, rationing medication or going to the emergency room for care. Oyeyemi said even at the simplest level, he knows they’re impacting lives by taking away patients’ anxiety about the cost of care.
Oyeyemi said if you ask anyone in medicine why they went into the field, they’ll tell you “to help people.” In his eyes, there’s no better way to do so than by helping your vulnerable neighbors.
“That just fulfills my ‘why’ – why I went through three decades of going to school,” Oyeyemi said. “To do this work.”
Oyeyemi said he’s thankful to the community at large for their support. He said there hasn’t been a single person who’s heard about what they do who hasn’t offered their support in some way – whether it’s kind words, donations or their time.
Looking ahead, Oyeyemi’s goal is to expand the number of days they’re open. He said while he admires people who travel far and wide to complete mission work, there’s a lot that needs to be done in our own backyards.
“There’s work to be done immediately around us, [and] to be able to be a part of that and serve more people, we can alleviate more suffering,” Oyeyemi said.
To learn more about the Cherry Hill Free Clinic, visit www.cherryhillfreeclinic.org.