Local missionary says caring is in her DNA

Nurse practitioner Benita King is a longtime volunteer at Mission Lexington Medical Clinic.
Nurse practitioner Benita King is a longtime volunteer at Mission Lexington Medical Clinic.

Benita King talks of going to do mission work in Haiti the way most people talk about going on vacation.

"You get to see a lot of different things and meet a lot of different people," King said of a recent mission trip. But the "retired" nurse practitioner's volunteerism also makes an impact locally.

If it's Thursday and King's not off doing good elsewhere, you'll probably find her at Mission Lexington Medical Clinic, where free medical and dental care is offered to people 18 and older who don't have health insurance.

Compassionate and consistent are the words clinic manager Margaret Nethery uses to describe King, who sees up to 10 patients a week in the non-profit clinic. The dental clinic opened in June 2006, the medical clinic in December 2008.

King has been involved from the beginning. She helped create policies and procedures. She put on work gloves and helped renovate the space. She visited a similar clinic in Texas to volunteer and see how things should be done.

The clinic — designed to fill the gaps without duplicating services at other clinics — is supported by several churches, including First Presbyterian Church of Lexington, Maxwell Street Presbyterian, Church of the Good Shepherd and Calvary Baptist. It has averaged more than 1,000 patients a year.

In addition to working at the clinic, King has recruited volunteers, Nethery said.

"She's really used her network to help draw people in," she said.

Talk to King about the clinic for any length of time, and she'll share her wish list for patients: access to diabetic eye exams, consultations with a dietitian, sessions with physical therapists. And, of course, more volunteers, especially medical professionals. More volunteers means more patients, and that's what King is all about. Though the clinic serves those without insurance, most of the patients have jobs — sometimes more than one.

"They are just inches from falling off the edge financially," she said.

The clinic serves adults only but not those old enough to receive Medicare. And she is happy to see patients leave, she said, because that means they've found jobs with health benefits or have been shepherded through the roughest times to become eligible for Medicare.

Like most people who do the most good, King doesn't like talking about herself.

"It's just a calling," says King of her clinic work. When pressed, she adds that being of service is in her DNA. She comes from a long line of nurses.

With 30 years working in health care, she knows that health problems, even paying for needed medication to control chronic problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes, often fall off the priority list of people just getting by. She remembers a woman who had moved to Lexington alone and whose diabetes was out of control. During the first few visits, she cried because she was ill and felt overwhelmed and lost. With the clinic's help, the woman got her diabetes under control and found a full-time job with health benefits.

"People come in crying and, after a while, they don't cry anymore," said King, who as sees her volunteer work as a mission.

Helping people find spiritual healing is also part of her calling. She'll often ask whether patients would like to pray with her. Very few say no.