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No health insurance? At Florida clinic, no problem

One clinic in Daytona Beach, Fla., is providing free medical care to the poor. In some cases, it has literally meant the difference between life and death. Dr. Bill Gilmer, the force behind the clinic, says he is driven by faith. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reports.

By Gabe Gutierrez, NBC News correspondent

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The diagnosis was bad enough. But when doctors told Lesa Ashley that she had breast cancer in 2006, the part-time waitress immediately thought of her two children, now ages 10 and 13.

"There's no words," she said, holding back tears. "There's no words."


As a 49-year-old single mom without health insurance, Ashley is part of the group known as the “working poor” -- people who have jobs so they can’t qualify for Medicaid, but who don’t earn enough to afford health insurance.

Ashley, who was earning between $12,000 and $14,000 at the time, had no idea how she would pay for treatment.

And then, Dr. Bill Gilmer stepped in.

"If we don't serve this particular population, no one else does," Gilmer told NBC News.

Here in Volusia County, roughly one in five adults doesn’t have health insurance, according to the local health department. Dr. Gilmer said that means those people don’t have access to routine primary medical care.

"It's terribly sad because when you live in a country that's as wealthy as this country and there are resources available,” said his wife, Pam. “It's just not right."

So nearly seven years ago, Dr. Gilmer and his wife -- a nurse – took action.

They started the Jesus Clinic in Daytona Beach. Since then, the clinic’s grown to 35 volunteers treating about 100 patients a week.

For free.

“These people have been angels,” said Debby Sturges, one of the patients. “Absolute angels."

Dr. Bill Gilmer, who runs a free medical clinic in Daytona Beach, Fla., says if his clinic doesn't serve the working poor, nobody else will -- except the emergency rooms. And according to Gilmer, that's inadequate for primary medical care.

Dr. Gilmer estimates he and his volunteers provided more than $900,000 in free medical care last year. They are funded entirely through donations and volunteers. His patients must meet certain criteria, he said, such as being employed full or part-time and being below specific income levels.

The demand is so great for his cramped clinic that he’s had to limit the number of new patients.

"We'd like to have more resources to do more,” he said.

Some of his patients claim his work has made the difference between life and death.

For Lesa Ashley, who is now studying law at the University of Central Florida after losing her job as a waitress, that difference is evident every hour she enjoys with her kids.

"I just sit back and just watch them in awe,” she said. “I'm so grateful that I can see them." 

She hopes Dr. Gilmer can expand his clinic.

"It renewed my faith in mankind and humanity,” she said. “I'd lost that.”

To learn more about the Jesus Clinic, visit their website at www.jesusclinic.com