The Health Wagon’s volunteers improve the lives of thousands of the uninsured in rural Appalachia each year.
Dr. Teresa Gardner, a family nurse practitioner from Coeburn, Virginia, has been dedicated to providing medical care to the citizens of southwest Virginia for more than 20 years. Today, she serves as the Executive Director for The Health Wagon, a free mobile health clinic that provides health care to the poverty-stricken areas of rural Appalachia. Teresa's husband, Monty Gardner, will be joining her on the cruise.
The Health Wagon got its start in 1980, when Sister Bernadette Kenny, affectionately referred to as Sister Bernie, relocated to Virginia from her native Massachusetts at the request of the Richmond Catholic Diocese. In order to deliver care to those who didn't have access to proper medical clinics, Sister Bernie began dispensing door-to-door heath care and a kind touch from her red Volkswagen Beetle. In 1993, she hired Teresa, then fresh out of nursing school, as the organization's first employee. In December 2005, she turned the reins over to Teresa, who has been instrumental in securing much-needed grants for the Health Wagon, enabling the team to treat 3,800 patients each year.
In addition to securing funding for The Health Wagon, Dr. Gardner is responsible for overseeing developmental efforts, supervising employees, coordinating clinic schedules, and planning health outreach events. She is also an active nurse practitioner, providing direct patient care to the folks of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, and Wise counties on a weekly, biweekly, and monthly basis.
"The Health Wagon is absolutely vital to the region," says Dr. Gardner. "Our patients live in remote mountain areas, and because of long distances, treacherous terrain, or inaccessibility to adequate transportation, often do not have the means to reach a traditional clinic. Further, many are out of work or elderly, and are unable to afford health care, so everything we provide is essentially free. The only cost they could incur is lab work if necessary."
Dr. Gardner has received numerous awards for her life-saving efforts including the AANP Domestic Humanitarian Award as well as the AANP Virginia State Award for Excellence. She was also awarded the Virginia Governor's Award for Volunteerism in regards to her coordination of the nation's largest free health care outreach. Dr. Gardner has been interviewed on such programs as 60 Minutes, Inside Edition and has received extensive media attention, including international, regarding her efforts to provide access to health care for those in need.