Last week and without a lot of fanfare, Southeastern Health announced a decision that was the right thing to do, but might not have been best for the fiscal health of the not-for-profit — reopening the A.J. Robinson Medical Clinic in South Lumberton, which has been closed since Hurricane Matthew hit on Oct. 8, 2016.
The 6,000-square-foot facility, located at 800 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, opened in October 2000 and delivered primary care to an under-served and impoverished area where too many people are unhealthy and don’t always tend to their health-care needs for an array of reasons, including affordability and distance. The clinic included a 1,000-square-foot dental office, which was managed by Robeson Health Care Corporation.
Medical centers like Southeastern Health are struggling in today’a health market, and for that reason there were genuine concerns that the clinic would remain closed, and its services relocated to other facilities managed by Southeastern Health.
But Southeastern Health did not pounce at that opportunity, swatting aside those worries with a simple announcement: “We are excited to be able to take this first step to bring health services back to this community,” said Joann Anderson, Southeastern Health’s president and chief executive officer.
Southeastern’s board of trustees announced its full support of the reopening and continuing the legacy of the clinic’s namesake, Dr. A.J. Robinson, who practiced medicine in Lumberton from 1951 until his retirement in 1986. Robinson, who was black, was not only a pioneer in medicine locally, but was a trailblazer also on the social scene, becoming the first person of color as a member of Pinecrest Country Club where he and his wife could be found so many late afternoons and weekends. Today that club fully reflects Robeson County’s demographics, and that is part of the couple’s legacy as well.
The Robinsons were beloved members of the Lumberton community, and it is important that their contributions be remembered.
Southeastern Health officials, in making the announcement, stressed the clinic has performed well for the health organization. It was placed in peril by Matthew-fueled flight from the community as many longtime residents there fled to higher ground, have not returned and the question remains if they will as many homes will not be rehabilitated because they remain in the flood zone.
That means fewer people in the community to serve, raising a question of the clinic’s viability.
The reason the clinic remaining open is important is that many of the people it serves don’t have transportation to travel across to North Lumberton, where its doctors have been relocated since the hurricane. It is true that the clinic serves people of all colors and stations in life, but some patients are challenged to make it on their own to the clinic, and some simply can’t make the trip.
That is why Southeastern Health’s decision was so critical, because without the clinic, many people would do without health care.
We commend Southeastern Health for remembering its mission, which is to meet the health-care needs of the community it serves, and not to ring the cash register.