Wanda Hadley, the 66-year-old retiring clinical director at the Volunteers in Medicine free clinic on Jackson Street, once dreamed of becoming a missionary forged in the image of her father, a small-town pastor at a Christian church near Richmond.
“I wanted to be a missionary when I was 10 or 11, but it didn’t quite work out,” said Hadley, who retired March 8 from her 16-year post at the free clinic, which offers medical care to people who don’t have any private or government insurance coverage.
“I ended up getting a nursing degree (at St. Anthony Hospital School of Nursing in Terre Haute), and later I became a nurse practitioner. I guess it’s always been more of a mission with me than a job,” Hadley said.
Starting nursing school roughly 40 years ago didn’t come easily for Hadley. She had to work a few years as a retail sales clerk to save the $2,300 in tuition she’d need to go to nursing college.
After three years of studies followed by graduation, Hadley’s first nursing job was as a pediatric nurse at Columbus Regional Hospital in 1976.
Retirement wasn’t a time of life that Hadley longed to reach.
Not surprisingly, according to colleagues, the long-time registered nurse’s post-retirement life has included spending several hours as a volunteer in recent days typing doctor’s notes into patients’ clinic records despite mounting health problems of her own.
Hadley, suffering from kidney disease, has been on a waiting list for a kidney transplant for the past year, and friends say her health issues made it difficult for her to continue working. She spends each night at home connected to a home dialysis machine, which cleans her blood as she sleeps.
In her job at the clinic, Hadley was responsible for managing the flow of patients, training nurses and working with doctors who volunteered for duty at the facility. She also recruited and helped train additional nursing volunteers.
“Wanda has brought healing and hope to thousands of patients and volunteers. She is the heart of Volunteers in Medicine,” said Cheri Wildridge, medication assistance program director for the clinic.
Hadley, in fact, was the last original Volunteers in Medicine staff member who had worked at the clinic since its creation in 1996.
The clinic relies on four full-time medical professionals, five part-timers and a few dozen volunteer doctors and nurses. Hadley had served as clinical director since 2006.
“Wanda has been our servant leader. She leads by example,” said Keith Weedman, executive director of the clinic.
Dr. Charles Rau, who helped start the Volunteers in Medicine clinic in 1996, said Hadley was instrumental in its longevity and success.
“Wanda has been in a leadership position there the whole 16 years,” said Rau, adding that Hadley’s dedication to helping provide medical care to those in need goes back longer than the creation of Volunteers in Medicine.
“We had a health care referral clinic through the public health department, and Wanda was there as a public health nurse,” Rau said. “It wasn’t nearly as broad in concept as the Volunteers clinic. But it did provide pretty good care, although no medicine. It was based more on the nurses who would screen patients and ship them out to doctors for care.”
Rau said Hadley’s childhood dream of becoming a missionary to the poor of the world worked out, even if it didn’t take shape in far-off lands.
“We do domestic mission work right here,” Rau said. “Wanda was always a real trooper. She did her best to take care of patients even when they couldn’t get a doctor scheduled to come into the clinic.”
The physician said in one respect he’s glad that Hadley is retiring. Her health problems have taken a toll on her stamina, and he feels she sometimes pushed herself to work too hard.
“She tires very quickly,” Rau said. “But her dedication to people, and the altruistic drive she has, is pretty darn great.”
Rau said the Volunteers in Medicine outpost has managed to stitch together solid health care for even the most under-privileged.
“We give away $2.5 million worth of free medicine every year, and you need that kind of commitment to really do the job,” he said.
“We’ve been very blessed by the professionals and the lay folks who have given us their support,” Hadley said. “It has allowed us to target those most in need. We’ve touched an awful lot of lives in the 16 years that I’ve been here.”