New community-owned clinic opens in Eleuthera
In a refurbished building that was once a general store, gleaming medical equipment, still encased in protective plastic wrappers, stood ready. It was August 20, the day of the opening of Eleuthera Medical Clinic. The community-owned facility already had 600 members and was quickly approaching its limit of 2,000. There was no fanfare, no ribbon-cutting, no band. A priest stood by the door, wanting to bless it. It was his idea. A few moments later, another minister called. She, too, wanted to come by and say a prayer.
For long-time Eleutheran Lynne Rawlings, the prayer was already answered.
“This has been my home for 20 years. My husband and I love it here. Eleuthera has everything a person could want. It’s simple. It’s honest. It’s beautiful. The one thing it didn’t have was adequate healthcare. This is amazing,” said Rawlings, her eyes sweeping the lobby of the 3,200-square-foot facility. “It’s nothing short of a miracle.”
Located in Palmetto Point, minutes from Governor’s Harbour in the central Bahamas, the Eleuthera Medical Center is owned by the Eleuthera Health Care Initiative, a community-owned, non-profit organization. The clinic is managed by Bahamas Wellness Clinic, founded by Arlington Lightbourne, M.D., the man whose commitment to Eleuthera is matched only by his desire to bring wellness to a society he fears is plagued by preventable non-communicable diseases that threaten the quality of life and life itself.
Members pay a nominal monthly fee, entitling them to exams by the team of doctors. While headed by Dr. Lightbourne, the clinic is full-service, complete with labs for blood work, urinalysis, cholesterol and other routine exams and tests. A sterile facility for setting broken bones and other in-clinic procedures, some of which previously required an air ambulance to Nassau with a hefty price tag of $4,000 to $6,000, will open soon along with a three-bed resuscitation room. The clinic is already prepared with an emergency entrance for an ambulance that will soon arrive. It is equipped to become a small hospital within an estimated time line of two years.
In addition to Dr. Lightbourne, there are physicians, nutritionists, life and wellness coaches and specialists who rotate, most coming in from Nassau where the Wellness Clinic operates on Collins Avenue, a block south of Doctors Hospital. Among the attending medical or wellness staff are Dr. Lashan McKenzie, a pediatrician who spent seven years in the public health system prior to joining the Wellness Clinic; Dr. Kiera Smith, a nutritionist; obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Simone Sealey; and lifestyle coach Justice Brown. Administrative and support staff includes Lori-Ann Lightbourne, a registered nurse, Dr. Lightbourne’s wife and mother of their two children. The clinic opened with a focus on primary care. Urgent care and diagnostics will follow by year-end.
“This has been the most amazing experience of my life,” said Dr. Lightbourne, who wanted to raise his family where his ancestors toiled the soil and fished the sea, and who recognized the need for primary and urgent medical care on an island that relied on an overburdened public clinic.
“The story of the Eleuthera Health Care Initiative and the clinic is a tale of what can happen when good people unite for a good cause. The way the community has come together, the outpouring of support is beyond anything I ever would have imagined possible. I’ve never seen people come to the table with such unselfish desire to do something for their community without expecting anything in return.”
Local residents, along with volunteers and staff from The Cancer Society of The Bahamas, Eleuthera branch, pulled together to traverse the island, enlisting members, contracting with payment centers and information distribution outlets. Patients can pay their membership dues at Commonwealth Bank and nearly 10 other locations. The Wellness Clinic is responsible for revenue management, making accounting records transparent and reporting to trustees on a regular basis.
For Dr. Lightbourne, who plans to continue to serve clients in Nassau two days a week at the original Wellness Clinic, and whose associates will be there when he is not, the opportunity to introduce lifestyle medicine to Eleuthera is “the answer to a lifelong dream”. If he could wave a magic wand, he would whisk away processed foods and stop the constant consumption of fast food.
“When you eat well and clean most of the time, you can cheat once in a while, and that is okay,” said the physician, who saw the impact of poor diet and lifestyle as an emergency room doctor for years before opening his lifestyle practice in 2015. His greatest concern is childhood obesity. His desire is not to prescribe drugs, but to proscribe a lifestyle to which ordinary people can subscribe. It was Dr. Lightbourne who made headlines when he said meat kills more people than guns, and sitting is the new smoking. He believes people need to be shocked into understanding how dangerous certain eating habits and lifestyle practices are. He saw it repeatedly with heart attacks and strokes in the emergency rooms at Princess Margaret Hospital and Doctors Hospital.
“He wants to get people off drugs. He’s really a pioneer and we are so fortunate to have someone of his standards and vision on a small island like Eleuthera. Even in the U.S. we do not have this level of wellness care in many places. Dr. Lightbourne is ahead of his time,” said Rawlings. “That is not to say that we were not grateful for the public clinic. The staff there does what they can with what they have and we are very appreciative, but how different this facility is from anything else. It’s incredible.”
That is the same word a patient who had been flying to Nassau monthly for treatment said. Then he added another thought.
“It’s God’s work,” he said.