Free Clinic Provides Services for Residents in Need
Deborah Bayliss | 11/6/2013, 2:53 p.m.
Hamilton Talbert used his walking cane to balance himself as he leaned against the wall of the Kenwood United Church of Christ (UCC) which houses the Norma Jean Sanders Free Clinic at 4600-08 S. Greenwood Ave.
“I’m a patient of Dr. Leroy Sanders, he’s a good doctor,” Talbert said about the medical doctor who is also a pastor. “He convinced me to have the knee replacement surgery I needed. I was reluctant but he’s someone you can confide in. I also got all the medicine I needed from here as well. A lot of people would be lost without this service.”
Talbert is referring to UCC’s free clinic that is staffed with licensed physicians, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, other health professionals and lay health ministers who volunteer to provide basic health assessment, health education, spiritual support, direct medical care as appropriate, and referrals to other resources as needed.
When asked how he ended up with a dual discipline, Rev. David Stewart, M.D., family practitioner with Rush University Medical Center and the UCC free clinic’s head physician, said, “It was my growing frustration with the medical field’s corporate interest coming before the patient interest,” Stewart said. “I found the church more “life giving” and pursued my calling in ministry and came to the Kenwood community to do my field work.”
Twelve years in operation, the clinic relies solely on donations and serves a great need in the community.
“With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we’ll probably downsize to take care of those who fall through the cracks such as homeless individuals and those who are undocumented, Dr. Stewart said. "We’re taking care of the folks with no options.”
To date, Dr. Stewart has not applied for federal or state assistance to run the clinic. He says that would require the Norma Jean Sanders Free Clinic to become a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) organization.
FQHC’s receive grants under Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (PHS) and enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other benefits, for clinics that serve an underserved area or population. They also offer a sliding fee scale, provide comprehensive services, have an ongoing quality assurance program, and have a governing board of directors. Becoming a FQHC would require the Norma Jean Sanders Free Clinic to operate during normal business hours and would also require the accommodation of a much larger clientele.
However, Stewart said he never intended to operate the clinic beyond the Friday only schedule and that his Rush practice keeps him busy.
Open Fridays only, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the free clinic provides for the health care needs of the congregation and the surrounding community as it works in cooperation with social service providers, and other health care systems and ministries including the Advocate Health Care and Chicago Family Free Healthcare.
The volunteer clinic staff, made up of licensed physicians, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, other health professionals and lay health ministers, provides basic health assessment, health education, spiritual support, direct medical care as appropriate, and referrals to other resources as needed.