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Generosity, volunteers keep Wesley Health Center providing free care for 20 years

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 12:26 a.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Wesley Health Center on South Pittsburgh Street in Connellsville will be celebrating its 20th anniversary with an open house on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.
The Wesley Health Center was dedicated on June 27, 1993. Attending the dedication service in 1993 and pictured in this photo are the Rev. Eugene Ankeny, then pastor of Wesley UMC and executive director; the Rev. Dale R. Smith, Connellsville District Superintendent; the Rev. Neal Rogers, assistant to the bishop; Dr. J. Miller Oppy, medical director; Michael Evans, then executive director of Highlands Hospital; Paul Karwatsky, general contractor; James Hines, chairman, WUMC board of trustees; and Martin Kurta, chairman, WHC board of directors.

For 20 years, Wesley Health Center in Connellsville's South Side has provided free primary health care to those without insurance.

The health center's inception started with a vision of the Rev. Eugene Ankeny, who was pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church.

After planning, discussions, and requests for help, Ankeny's vision came to reality on July 1, 1993, when the doors of Wesley Health Center were open.

The health center, at 410 S. Pittsburgh St. across from the Wesley United Methodist Church, will celebrate its 20th anniversary with an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Marilyn Weaver, executive director of the health center, said the house where the center operates was given to the church some years before the transformation into a health center.

“There was talk back then of tearing down the house and making a bigger parking lot — which thankfully did not happen,” said Weaver.

Today, a covered walkway guides patients from the parking area to the front door. The reception area features an original wall painting to put patients at ease while they wait to be escorted to the laboratory area or exam room.

Grants have provided the means for the center to increase access to health care for everyone. The new lowering exam table and the elevator to the second floor accommodates patients with mobility problems. Patients can access the oral-screening clinic and the retinal-screening area.

Ankeny was aided in the development of the center by Dr. J. Miller Oppy of Connellsville.

Weaver said Ankeny had a vision that the house could be used as a health center for those with no health insurance

“The two men got together on this, and it moved forward with volunteers who helped make the many changes that would transform it from a house to a health center. There were many people who took part in the process of building and gathering medical supplies and many things,” said Weaver.

The dedication took place on June 27, 1993. The event was held outdoors that day, and Wesley United Methodist Church was involved.

Wesley Health Center is a mission of the church. The health center officially opened on July 1 with all volunteers.

Weaver was encouraged to becomes involved with WHC when she moved back to Connellsville from Ohio in 2002. Margie Eiford soon afterward began as office manager.

Wesley Health Center soon had a paid part-time staff.

“WHC was very blessed to have obtained a sizable grant some years ago that enabled all new windows to be put in as well as siding. It was really what the building needed. The outside then matched the first-rate facility inside,” said Weaver.

Over the years, she said, the center has received numerous grants to help purchased the most up-to-date medical equipment.

Weaver applauds the paid part-time staff of three — Eiford, medical assistant Cindy Razor and nurse practitioner Jeremy R. Hunt.

The center's volunteer board of directors are Paula Grubach, president; Robert Keller, vice president; Jennifer Miller, secretary; and Weaver, treasurer and executive director.

“I am so proud to be part of an organization that has worked tirelessly to provide care to the uninsured. We continually upgrade and expand our services offered. We are blessed with a wonderful, dedicated medical staff, great board of directors but most of all we have Marilyn Weaver as our volunteer executive director. We would not have been able to continue this mission without the support of many individuals, churches, businesses, service organizations, etc., within our community,” said Grubach.

The health center, however, has had difficulty over the years finding grants to pay administrative costs.

The center recently accepted the volunteer services of Dr. Richard Cook of Uniontown who comes to the center once a month to treat patients. The center still welcomes doctors who would like to volunteer their time.

“WHC is a totally free clinic — we don't charge anybody anything. We operate on only grants and donations. We are blessed to have individuals who donate regularly, some generously give $100 a month. Churches and Sunday School classes of all denominations take up collections for WHC. We are also grateful for those civic organizations and veterans associations that have been very generous. Every year for quite a few years, the Bud Murphy's Golf Outing blesses us with all the proceeds from that successful event,” said Weaver.

Wesley United Methodist Church serves a spaghetti dinner each year as a fundraiser for the clinic. Funds are received quarterly from United Way of Westmoreland; the agency was responsible for getting WHC grant writer Regina Mayola, who helps in writing medical grants.

A Department of Welfare grant allowed the center to put the elevator to the second floor. Collaborative agreements have been fruitful over the years. Connellsville Counseling & Psychological Services is next door to the Adagio in Uniontown. And Dr. John Ellis and Dr. Frank Jacobyansky treat patients. A second-floor, oral-screening room recently opened where volunteer health hygienist Beth Hanzes conducts creenings. A retinal camera that scans the eyes was installed in September, made possible by a donation from the Marilyn Kiefer Foundation, Chevron, Connellsville Lions, 10 other clubs and Lions Club International. The Lions Club is devoted to eye care and prevention of blindness.

The public is invited to the anniversary and open house on Saturday.

Activities include a re-dedication of the building at 10 a.m., with brief remarks from local elected officials and individuals who have been part of the Wesley Health Center family since its inception in 1993; free health screenings; building tours; and light refreshments.

For more information on the open house or services at the center or to make an appointment, call 724-628-2410 or go to

Nancy Henry is a contributing writer.

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