Red and white gift symbolic for Giving Tuesday with sample text on bright red and white background.

Giving Tuesday, 2015

December 1, 2015

snowflakes_flatDear Friend of Mountain Hope,

The blessings I have experienced at Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic are too numerous to count.

Recently, I was working in the medical hallway among a number of patients, but one woman stood out.  She was in tears. I know that look—the panic of not being able to regain your composure and desperately wanting it back.  My stomach sank.  As tears rushed down her cheeks, our nurse weighed her and the woman apologized again for not keeping it together.  I didn’t leave my seat, and I had no idea how to help.

snowflakes_flatHelp here, at Mountain Hope, is often angelic, and yesterday it arrived in the person of Jackie Burk, a volunteer nurse.  I listened as she knelt beside the woman “Honey,” she said, “It’s OK to cry here.  You’re among friends.”  It was that simple, and it was true. At Mountain Hope, you’re always among friends.

I am so in awe of generosity of those who volunteer here and support this place, and I am more grateful than ever for the good folks in this community who believe in giving their neighbors a hand up—people like Jackie.  This is a safe place, a healing place, and it’s the legacy of hundreds who have worked to make it what it is.  It started with Dr. Alyene Reese, nearly 17 years ago, who led the charge with faith and hard work.

I love Tuesdays and Thursdays because of Dr. Robert Valosik, a wonderful, retired doc who volunteers then.  Dr. Bob has the same effect on most people as sunshine.  If you meet him, you’ll understand.

Dr. Bob told me about Neil Lee, a local pastor, not too long ago.  He said that when he began treating Neil, the man couldn’t walk through his church.  He was so weak; there were times he had to crawl.

Neil Lee, it turns out, is an inspiration.

snowflakes_flatI sat down with Neil at his church in Seymour as he told me, “Five years ago, I woke up and wondered if I’d had a stroke.”  It wasn’t a stroke.  It also seems that what began as difficulty focusing on beloved crossword puzzles wasn’t the need for glasses he had long suspected.  The diagnosis was much, much worse.

Neil made an appointment at Mountain Hope. “In walked this little man with a big smile,” Neil told me. Within a moment, Dr. Bob Valosik had correctly diagnosed the very rare Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes loss of muscle function as chemical receptors in the body are blocked. It can go undiagnosed for years, and begins with difficulty keeping eyelids open, eventually affecting all muscles, making even eating hard.  Few doctors know it on sight as Dr. Bob did. His diagnosis was life-saving.

For years, Neil was treated by Dr. Bob.  There were bouts so bad that Neil was hospitalized multiple times.  He was eventually referred to a neurologist who agreed to treat him for only $5 per month.  Still, Neil was dealing with muscles that refused to work, with trials of medications that led to severe dehydration, and steroids that led to massive weight gain.  Through it all, for five years, Dr. Bob saw Neil as his primary care doctor, and called between visits to check in. Neil Lee will tell you that it’s true– at Mountain Hope, you are among friends.

snowflakes_flatThough he fought the idea of disability benefits years, eventually Neil applied; benefits were approved. He cried when he heard that because Mountain Hope is a Clinic for the uninsured, and he now had insurance, Dr. Bob—whom he’d grown to love — could no longer treat him. “I think Dr. Bob cried, too,” he said.

Neil’s story is one of many. This year, we have surpassed 20,000 patients of record.  The need for quality medical and dental care for the uninsured is more imperative than ever. With premiums for ACA insurance on the rise, we expect that many more will seek our help in 2016.  Far too many simply cannot pay the ACA premiums.  Folks are also reeling from cuts to working hours because employers can’t afford to insure full-time employees.

Our patients pay what they can, but there is a $65 deficit between the average $30 that patients pay and the cost of treatment.  That leaves lots of ground to cover, and we still turn away hundreds of people every month—people like Neil, people who need us.  We have had to say, “I’m sorry, but we’re full,” thousands of times already in 2015.

I’m glad to report Neil Lee is pastoring his church on his feet these days.  The right meds and good providers make it possible to live a productive life that he loves.  Dr. Bob still speaks to him by phone regularly. Neil is no longer a patient, but he’s still among friends and will always be a part of the Mountain Hope family.

This season, remember that health is a gift.  We count you as part of the Mountain Hope family, too, and I am grateful for the lives you continue to change—and yes, save– with your support.  During horribly difficult times, you are the reason that our patients know they are among friends. If you can help us again to provide quality care for our neighbors, I want to thank you for the difference you’re making in Sevier County.  You are supporting the very significant efforts of folks like Jackie Burk and Dr. Bob Valosik.  If you cannot donate now, please remember our patients, their families, our staff, and volunteers in your prayers during this holiday.

May you be blessed for your faithfulness,

Ashley Justice                                                                                 Mary Vance

Ashley Sig

placeholder_edited-1 Mary2placeholder_edited-1placeholder

Director of Fund Development                                                   Executive Director

Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic                                     Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic

A white cowboy hat, brown leather boots and lariat on a white background

Stages West Assigns Volunteer to Clinic

A tragedy for a Pigeon Forge business has had a silver lining for many local non-profits, including Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic.

Judy Stump has spent some time recently volunteering at the Clinic, helping with various paperwork and office tasks. She is an employee of Stages West, a Western-themed store in Pigeon Forge that suffered a devastating fire last August.

While the store is being remodeled and restored, employees such as Judy are still earning pay, provided they spend their working hours helping out at local non-profits. This was a generous plan put into effect by Stages West owners Steve and Marlene Houser and their son Stephen. What is truly astounding is that Judy had worked at the store for only seven days before the fire.

“I just praise the Housers for giving me the opportunity to stay on with them,” she says. “They didn’t have to, and that shows what kind of people they are. Since I was the newest employee, they really didn’t have to keep me.”

Some of the non-profits benefiting from Stages West volunteer help are Mountain Hope, King Family Library, Sevier County Food Ministries, Sevier County Humane Society, the senior center  and Pigeon Forge Fire Department. Judy has shelved books and helped with the after-school program at KFL, sorted clothes in the food ministry’s thrift store and given out fire alarms at the Pigeon Forge mobile home park, worked the concession stand at high school football games and passed out fliers.

Though employees may not be working as many hours as they would at the store, they are still earning some pay and they all have the prospect of returning to their former jobs when the store reopens some time next year.

“I’m telling you, this company is just amazing,” Judy says. “I’ve never been involved with a business that’s this caring.”


Volunteer Dentist Joins Mountain Hope

IMG_4976A preacher’s words at a church service prompted a local dentist to volunteer at Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic.

Dr. Sean Toomey has been practicing dentistry for three years, when he took over Dr. Jon Shell’s practice in Sevierville. He knew when he came home to Sevier County that he wanted to offer his skills as a volunteer, but at first he was busy settling in his new profession and kept putting off any volunteer work.

It wasn’t until a service at Pathways Church on the Parable of the Talents, when the preacher urged his flock to make use of their talents to help others that he knew the time had come. “I felt like it was the push I needed,” he said.

His dental practice, Toomey Family Dentistry, is closed on Fridays, so he has been seeing dental patients at the Clinic for a half-day once a month. His involvement may increase in time, he said.

“I’m extremely happy to have Dr. Toomey volunteering his time at Mountain Hope,” said Clinic Executive Director Mary Vance. “There’s such a great need for dental care. This moves us closer to our goal of providing dental care five days a week.” Currently, Dr. Jeffrey Collart operates the dental clinic three days a week and dental hygienist Amy Giles is here two days.

Dr. Toomey understood the need for dental care in the area. “I grew up in this area,” he said. He was born in Florida but his family moved to Sevier County when he was 9 years old. He attended Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, where he was valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar. He earned a degree in psychology from Vanderbilt University. Then he attended the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in Memphis for four years, graduating with honors before returning home to practice.

He enjoys the company of family and friends in his spare time, and can also be found on the golf course. “I’m an avid golfer,” he said.

He and his wife, Jennifer, have been married for 2 years and are expecting their first child in December.


Free eye clinic tests diabetic patients

IMG_0638Twenty-two people with diabetes received free retinopathy screening at Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic on Nov. 14.

Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the retina in the eye caused by high blood sugar. Without treatment it can lead to blindness. “Many of our patients have diabetes but can’t afford the recommended annual screening for retinopathy,” said Mary Vance, the non-profit Clinic’s Executive Director. “This is the first time the Clinic has been able to offer this free screening.”  Vance went on to say, “I’ve wanted to add this service for Mountain Hope patients for years.  Dr. Bill Fry made the connection possible with Welch-Allyn, and we are grateful for his involvement.  We are also grateful for Dr. Van Moore, who is assisting in evaluating the reports.”

The testing was made possible through the cooperation of Welch Allyn, a manufacturer of medical diagnostic equipment. Welch Allyn provided the equipment and a technician for the screenings.

Even though the screening was on a Saturday, “a lot of people had to come from work,” said Clinic volunteer Sandi Moersdorf. However, she said the procedure was very quick, taking only a couple of minutes per person. It consisted of taking special photos of the eye, which are sent via computer to a retinal specialist. A diagnostic report is then sent back to the Clinic.

“Welch Allyn is very excited to support Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic in their efforts to preserve vision by screening for diabetic retinopathy with Welch Allyn RetinaVue Network,” said Chuck Witkowski, director of the company’s New Healthcare Delivery Solutions. “Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults, but with early detection 95 percent of vision loss cases can be prevented.”

Moersdorf, volunteer Pat Richardson and Clinic staffer Lydia Godfrey assisted at the screening. “This is brand new,” Moersdorf said, “and I’d like to see it repeated.”

“We appreciate Welch Allyn’s involvement in this venture,” Vance said. “We are anxious to do whatever we can to help our patients control their diabetes and avoid its consequences.”

Mountain Hope Clinic provides quality medical and dental care to Sevier County residents and employees who have no health insurance. For more information, visit

Retro Run Featured Image

Love to Run? Support Mountain Hope!

Retro Run Featured Image


UPDATE: Changes to the weekend, planned for April 29 and 30, mean more people can take part at less cost. The event is now open to all ages. Ticket prices have been reduced. The tribute to veterans has been rescheduled to late Friday afternoon to allow more veterans to take part. Veterans can attend all the Friday activities and the concert at no charge. One-day tickets as well as weekend tickets are now available.

The Saturday morning race will include a traditional race for runners 39 and younger. The “Run at the Front” format is for those aged 40 and older.


Retro Run could net Clinic big bucks

PIGEON FORGE — A weekend for the 40-and-over crowd could net as much as $8,000 for Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic.

If 8,000 people register for the RetroRunning weekend scheduled for April 29 through May 1, 2016, Mountain Hope will receive $10,000. Fewer registrants will bring in less money. The weekend includes fun, music, workshops on a wide variety of topics and a unique road race for people aged 40 or older. Racers will start at or near the starting line in groups made up of people their own age. Groups will run a few minutes apart. The distance is approximately 5.59 miles.

Other activities include dance lessons, workshops on topics as varied as health and fitness and legal planning for the elderly, a seminar by running coach and author Jeff Galloway, and Veterans’ Appreciation Breakfast. All are set for LeConte Auditorium.

You can register on line at Use the coupon code of MHGSC and $25 of your fee will go to Mountain Hope.