The Story of the Mel Leaman Free Clinic


In August 2001, three nurse practitioners, Rebecca Goble, Dayle Zanzinger, and Martha Larmer, started the Smyth County Free Clinic, Inc. to aide in the access of primary health care to uninsured, low-income individuals. The clinic shared office space with the Smyth County Health Department for the first five months before relocating to the current location in the Marion Plaza shopping center. In August 2016, through an incredibly beneficial collaboration with Emory & Henry College, the MLFC will be expanding our facilities and services and relocating to the E&H School of Health Sciences campus in Marion. This collaboration will enable the MLFC to expand from 3 to 9 examination and procedure rooms and add the additional services of women's health care, behavioral medicine, genetic counseling, physical therapy and occupational therapy. An additional collaboration with Wytheville Community College's Dental Hygiene program will enable the MLFC to add dental hygiene services to our other comprenensive services.

The clinic’s name was changed to Mel Leaman Free Clinic in 2012 to honor the memory of Mel Leaman, the clinic’s first Executive Director.

Mel Leaman Free Clinic was developed, because access to primary health care for the working poor was identified as a primary concern in Smyth County. Despite the myriad of assistance programs available to county residents, there are still people needing assistance, especially health and dental services.

The working poor constitute the majority of the uninsured, and those workers between 18 to 64 years old are particularly vulnerable, as they generally do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. Even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), people struggle to access affordable medical services. In fact, free clinics across the country have experienced an increase in the number of patients with the introduction of the ACA.

The need for quality health care for the uninsured and working poor grows with every round of lay-offs and plant closings. According to the Virginia Employment Commission, Smyth County experienced an annual unemployment rate of 7.8 percent in 2014. Our county currently ranks 87 out of 95 counties in Virginia.

To further increase the demands for our services, many of our clients are working for minimum wage in small businesses where the luxury of health insurance benefits is not available. In an effort to help those in that situation, we have made our primary target the working uninsured or those who have lost employment within the past 9 months and whose income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

Mel Leaman Free Clinic operates as a private, not-for-profit medical facility and does not receive reimbursement from patients or insurers for services. All operating funds come from donations or grants. Services we will provide include primary medical care, behavioral medicine, pharmaceuticals within the clinic formulary, health education, social services and referrals as appropriate.

The mission of the Mel Leaman Free Clinic is to expand and provide and improve the health care services available to the working poor within the county. This mission is met by providing free medical care and regular health visits to low-income, uninsured, employed residents who cannot afford private paid care. In late 2015, the Board of Directors expanded the service area to include Smyth, Grayson, and Washington counties.

Mel Leaman Free Clinic is a tax-exempt non-profit agency governed by a Board of Directors.



In Honor of Mel Leaman

(3/4/1954 – 10/16/2010)

After a long courageous battle with cancer our dear friend, colleague, and mentor passed away at the young age of 56. He had many titles: Executive Director, Councilman, Friend, Husband, and Dad. But the title he coveted most was that of Papaw. He loved his grandchildren and he proved his love by holding on to life until he knew each and every one of them was healthy.

He loved his family and his church family.


He loved watching football and fixing wings with his buddies.


He loved being on town council and representing his constituents.


He loved Thanksgiving, it was his favorite holiday.


He loved spending time in the kitchen cooking, sometimes all day!


He loved his town, always working hard to make it a better place to live.


He loved being a DEMOCRAT!!!


Most of all, he loved working at the Free Clinic and helping those in need.


Here’s to you friend, your memory lives on.


Emory, Va. Campus: P.O. Box 947, Emory, Va. 24327 (map)    276.944.4121
Marion, Va. Campus: 565 Radio Hill Rd., Marion, Va. 24354 (map)    276.944.6342 ·  276.781.7200