MARION — Classrooms were transformed into examination rooms at three local schools this week in preparation for a special project that will give local residents access to no-cost medical care.

Southern Care, a partnership between the military and Delta Regional Authority, will offer medical, dental and optical care to residents at no charge from June 16 to June 27.

Members of the military will staff clinics at Cairo Junior-Senior High School, Harrisburg Middle School and Marion Junior High School as part of the U.S. Military’s Southern Care Innovative Readiness Training mission.

“This is really a win-win situation,” said Kathy Lively, CEO of Man-Tra-Con Corp. and a graduate of the DRA Advanced Leaders Program. “Medically underserved areas in the southern 16 counties of Illinois served by the Delta Regional Authority will have access to no-cost health care and medical professionals in the military will be able to keep their skills sharp with professional training and development.”

The clinics can help thousands of residents walk the path to good health, she said. In addition to medical, dental and optical care, the clinics will also serve as a “one-stop shop,” offering education, information and referrals.

Other agencies are also participating in the clinics such as Dental Safari, a mobile company that provides no-cost exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants, if necessary, to children up to age 16.

“This is a great way for us to reach out to people in need,” Dental Safari’s Jennifer Santi said.

Through its “Work Experience” program, Man-Tra-Con offered dislocated workers to do appointment scheduling and set up transportation for those who need it. The workers gain experience by working with the public and providing customer service, Lively said.

Other medical professionals have also volunteered to help and more are expected to offer their services at the clinics.

“People could have seen this as competition, but instead, they decided to take the opportunity to try and connect as many people to services as possible. It’s been a great collaborative effort,” Lively said.

Appointments are still available for most services and even those fully booked may still be able to take advantage of the health care. Walk-ins are welcome but those with appointments will be seen first.

“The optical appointments are full but if people already have a prescription, they can bring it in and get single-vision glasses at no cost,” Lively said. “And it’s not too late for medical professionals to volunteer so that more people can be seen. There’s a simple form to fill out and they can volunteer for as much or as little time as they want.”

Schools, agencies, city officials, businesses, and members of the community have also helped with the effort.

“Everyone has really pitched in to help this be a success,” Lively said.

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