Marian Braden is running around at Mission Frankfort Clinic on a recent evening “like a chicken with its head cut off,” in her words.
Officially, the 60-year-old is the coordinator at the clinic for those without health insurance.
Unofficially, she’s the den mother and always the jokester. Either way, she’s hard to miss as she darts from room to room clad in green scrubs with a bright red feather in her hair. She checks files, takes questions from volunteers and catches up with the regulars.
She high-fives one patient who just quit smoking and teases another for not having a tattoo.
“I got one for my 50th birthday,” she boasts.
For a couple of minutes, she has an excuse to stand still while she checks a patient’s blood pressure.
The patient’s been there before and addresses Marian by name, calling her “the spirit” of Mission Clinic.
“I don’t know where I’d be without you all,” she says.
“God’s going to really bless you. You’ll be up at the very front of the gates.”
After she leaves, Marian shrugs off the compliment.
“(She’s) too kind … I just really love people.”
Long before Marian was lending a hand to the less fortunate, she watched her parents and grandparents do the same.
Her grandparents ran a poorhouse, similar to a modern-day shelter, in Springfield. When Marian was 5 her parents took over the poorhouse and turned it into a nursing home. Marian and her family moved into the house next door.
“I grew up in a nursing home, basically,” Marian said with a laugh.
Her mother was the nursing home administrator, and her father ran the family farm. He also woke up early every Sunday to cook breakfast for the patients.
Residents and nursing home staff were like an extended family.
“Growing up in a nursing home helped prepare me for the medical field. When I was a kid, the other kids would say, ‘Ew, how do you stand being around all those old people?’ but to me, it was just the way I grew up. That environment was all I knew.”
It was an environment that inspired her to become a registered nurse. After nursing school, she took a job on the post-surgical floor at Frankfort Regional Medical Center (then King’s Daughters Hospital). Soon after, she was made an ER nurse.
She worked in the ER for three different hospitals (King’s Daughters, Bluegrass Community Hospital in Versailles and Spring View Hospital in Lebanon) for 30 years.
But after three decades in the ER, Marian felt a little “burnt out.” She took a job in a psychiatrist’s office in Lexington. It was less stressful than the ER, but the commute from Frankfort and the high gas prices were “a pain in the butt.” In 2010, Marian scanned the classifieds for something new and came across an opening for a part-time clinical coordinator at Mission Frankfort Clinic. It was the first time Marian had heard of it. She didn’t think much about it.
Later that week, she ran into the clinic’s interim coordinator, who encouraged her to apply. A few days later, Marian saw the former clinical coordinator, who suggested the same.
“It was like everywhere I turned, Mission Clinic was in my face, like saying ‘This is what you need to do,’” Marian said. “So I thought, what the heck? I’ll put in a resume.”
Shortly after applying, the clinic’s board scheduled an interview to begin at 6 p.m. By 9, Marian had the job.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do, so I took it, and I love it.”
As clinical coordinator, Marian fields concerns from patients and oversees the clinic, which is open every Wednesday evening and one Saturday morning a month.
Anyone who doesn’t have health insurance can come to Mission Clinic. With more than 900 active patients and a two-month waiting list, Marian stays busy.
“I don’t twiddle my thumbs by any means,” she said at her desk last week as she motioned toward a pile of folders and lists of patients taped on her wall.
“There’s always something to do.”
Sometimes a patient’s problem can’t be treated at the clinic. For example, if someone requires an X-ray or needs to see a cardiologist, it’s Marian’s responsibility to find specialists willing to see them free of charge.
It sounds like a challenge, but Marian’s persistent attitude has expanded the clinic’s network of service providers.
In the two years, she’s gotten patients free X-rays and CT scans. And she’s found specialists from cardiologists to allergists willing to give free evaluations.
“Pretty much anything that I need for a patient, I can somehow get it scheduled,” Marian said.
“I don’t care, I’ll call anybody and ask them. All they can do is tell me no, and more often than not – about 99 percent of the time – they’ll see our patients.”
While she takes her job seriously, Marian also likes to have fun.
“I love to party. Down here, for any holiday or special occasion, I will decorate for whatever.”
Last Halloween, she had the male doctors and volunteers dress as pirates – giving each one an eye patch and a hoop earring – and handed out light-up tiaras to the women. For Mother’s Day, she hung up posters and handed out flowers.
Soon after she took the job, she gave the clinic’s white walls a makeover, hanging up “Welcome” signs and paintings that she bought out of her pocket while scouring yard sales.
“I like to make it warm and inviting. I just want them to feel at home … and let them know that we care.”
But in between the fun and games, she’s reminded of the seriousness of her position.
Last week, a woman came in looking for her prescription. She was supposed to come the week before, but it took the woman a few days to save enough gas money to make it to the clinic.
“I thought, ‘This is terrible. The way I throw around money, and this woman couldn’t even afford to come pick up her free prescription,’” Marian said. “I just felt so bad for her.”
But Marian couldn’t find the prescription. She was about ask the woman to come back later in the week, but remembered the patient might not be able to afford another trip.
“So I grabbed my purse, took out a $10 bill, put it in her palm, and said, ‘I don’t know what happened, but it was probably my fault. Take this for gas money, come back Wednesday night, and I’ll make sure you get your prescription,’” Marian said.
“You get close to some of these people, and you just really want to help everybody. And you know, sometimes, that’s just what you do.”