Free clinic created in good faith
As assistant to the pastor, Nancy Morgans-Ferguson encounters a lot of needy people at the Congregational Church of Chico. Two in particular have left a lasting impression—on her, and now on the community.
“I had a little old lady and man coming every week from the spring into the summer asking for something,” she recalled this week. “[The lady would say,] ‘I have an owie.’ ‘I have an infection.’ I encouraged them to see Enloe, but they refused.”
The couple was “mentally challenged,” she explained. “It would take half an hour before I could understand what they needed.”
Often, what they needed she couldn’t provide. “I can give money, give clothes, give food. … I can’t give medical treatment.”
Ultimately, the couple moved back to Arkansas, driving out of the church parking lot with walkers and other items Morgans-Ferguson had acquired. She cried while remembering all they’d gone through and thought, We’ve got to have an alternative to help people like them.
Spurred into action by Pastor Fred Davis, she began working with Karen Kushner on such an alternative. Kushner, a physician’s assistant employed by Butte County, also wanted to reach out to the sick and needy. Their work—supported by the Congregational Church and Chico Havurah, the Jewish congregation that also inhabits the house of worship—has brought forth the Shalom Free Clinic.
Sunday afternoon starting Feb. 4, three physicians and a dozen other health professionals will offer medical and mental-health care—"no cost, no questions asked,” Morgans-Ferguson said. Ultimately, they hope each doctor and lab in town will treat one or two patients a year referred by the clinic. For now, they are excited about the support they have.
Dr. Jerry Weiner has begun rallying the Chico medical community. Dr. Virmali Paul will be the clinic’s medical director, Morgans-Ferguson said, and the pharmaceutical provider Option Care will repackage and dispense bulk generic drugs. Jones, a psychologist with Butte County Mental Health, and Havurah President Silona Reyman, a marriage and family therapist, will offer counseling.
The clinic has been certified a nonprofit corporation and is in the process of getting no-cost malpractice insurance that the federal government offers free clinics.
In Kushner’s estimation, “we’ve got all the bases covered.”
The Shalom Free Clinic is named after the Hebrew word for peace. Interestingly, members of the Congregational Church suggested “Shalom"; when discussed with other organizers, Reyman relayed in an e-mail, “it was a unanimous ‘yes.’ “
The clinic has 300 volunteers, with room for more. “There’s a job for everybody who wishes to help us,” Morgans-Ferguson said, “from doctors to little old ladies on the hospitality committee making soup, bread and cookies.”
The people who get help may want to think about a certain little old lady … and, while they’re at it, some working women, too.
“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Kushner said, “and to find other people willing to make it happen …”
That’s a dream come true.