Margaret Jala and Zoe Huston have been AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteers with the Moab Free Health Clinic for more than a year. The two are dedicated to their work with the clinic — so much so that they say they could not possibly leave once their VISTA terms ended.
“I don’t know anywhere else that has people who do it more than a year,” Huston said of the VISTAs in the area. “I think Moab is pretty unique in that way. It seems like short-term community, but so many just stay and become forever residents.”
“The community is connected between all these different facets through VISTAs,” Jala added.
“I don’t think it happens in bigger cities. A lot of people who are running the community now came here as volunteers 10 or 15 years ago,” Huston continued. “Which is really cool because it brings young, educated people to the community who want to work”
Originally from Virginia, Jala found the clinic in pursuit of real-world medical experience. “I was looking for a medical position, and I found the clinic and thought Moab would be a great place to do AmeriCorps,” she explained. “I’d been to Moab one time before, so I knew about it. My friends and I did a four-day, five-park type of deal. They have commercials in Virginia for southern Utah’s five parks.”
Huston, from Portland, Ore., was also interested in the clinic in order to gain experience in the field before she pursues her nursing degree.
“I knew I wanted to go to nursing school but wanted to do something in the interim that would give me some real world experience instead of jumping right back into school again.” She did not originally set out to become a VISTA volunteer, however. “I’d never been to Moab before,” Huston explained. “I found the clinic, and the way to work at the clinic was to be an AmeriCorps volunteer. I knew nothing about AmeriCorps at all. I had never heard of it.”
Huston threw herself into Moab’s community once she began her work at the clinic. As the clinic’s development coordinator, she has created several new programs for the clinic during her time there.
“In addition to running the clinic and answering phones and doing patient follow up, I have spent a lot of time trying to bring programs into the clinic by partnering with other programs that offer services that we could benefit from,” Huston explained. “Women’s health is a big one. We have a program with the health department that brings a nurse into the clinic on a monthly or bi-monthly basis and we do free [medical procedures], mammograms and blood cholesterol screenings for women who are over 40 and don’t have health insurance.”
Huston added this is extremely important for women who are at risk of developing breast cancer.
“If they do catch something, [a patient] gets enrolled in emergency Medicaid, and your treatment is covered all the way through,” Huston explained. “It’s a great happy day because everyone is coming in and doing preventative healthcare and taking care of themselves, which is awesome.”
Huston also recently facilitated a vision clinic with an organization from Park City. “They do a lot of international work,” Huston said, “But they came down here for the day and saw 45 people who really needed glasses and didn’t have health insurance ... they were putting it off for years and years and driving around town in their cars.” Huston continued, “They all got screened, they had an appointment with an optometrist, and they got to pick out a pair of frames for custom-made glasses, and we got the Lions Club to donate, so we paid $10 a frame. Now everyone in Moab can see better and the roads are safer.”
As the clinic’s patient navigator, Jala works to make treatment more accessible and affordable for the clinic’s patients.
“I do a lot of prescription assistance. When patients see our volunteer providers here, a lot of times they get prescriptions for procedures or really expensive medications, and the average person, including me before this year, has no idea how to access those without insurance,” Jala explained. “I do a lot of work researching prescription assistance plans trying to find money for different procedures ... or helping people get on financial assistance plans at other places like the hospital. Otherwise people leave and they would never go and get the medications, so hopefully we’re helping a greater percentage of patients follow up with what the doctors order here.”
“She’s underselling herself,” interjected Huston. “She helps people get medications that cost about $80,000 for free.”
For Huston and Jala, they say their work is all about providing for their community. “We try and do a lot of stuff like that,” explained Huston, “We look at our little tiny community and determine what is hard to access because we are small and isolated ... and what is hard to access when you have very limited resources and how can we bring that here.”
This is another story in a recurring series of Moab’s “Leaders under 30,” a collection of accounts showcasing the young and ambitious in Grand County.