Haller Lake Christian Health Center
In the summer of 2002, two healthcare professionals, Dr. Steve Creelman and Dr. Doug Park, went on two separate health-related mission trips. By the time they returned, God had already begun to work in their hearts. They had seen the significance of the services that they were able to provide to the indigent on a short-term basis, and they began to wonder about the impact they might have in their neighbors’ lives if they were to establish a clinic where they would be able to establish relationships with patients. These two men began sharing their questions and dreams with other health professionals. They formed a group that began to explore the possibility of actually starting a clinic for the low-income, uninsured population of North Seattle, Washington, as a means of showing Jesus to these neighbors.
The North Seattle community looks like a typical middle-class American suburb, without obvious evidence of poverty. But as the group looked more closely, it found that almost 16% of the population is uninsured. There is also a large immigrant population in the neighborhood, and 20% are low income. Furthermore, this low-income, uninsured population had no resources by which to obtain dental care and very limited resources for medical services. After prayer and affirmation from their church community, North Seattle Alliance, the group committed to follow God in his call to reach out to their community through a health clinic.
Their next step was a trip to Chicago to attend one of CCHF’s “Nuts and Bolts” conferences. While there, they received encouragement and notebooks of invaluable information on how to start a clinic like the one they had envisioned. They also met others who were further along in serving the low-income within their communities; these individuals became sources of ongoing encouragement and information.
Armed with tools and a renewed vision, the group returned home and set to work. They formed a board, named the clinic, became incorporated, Verbalized their mission, began working on their nonprofit status, and visited other clinics. Their church agreed to donate a 1,500 square-foot section of their facility to the clinic, and the group began restructuring that space to become a clinic. Group members wrote a medical charting program, set up a computer network, held a clinic shower to solicit donations from their supporters, recruited volunteers, developed training materials, wrote and distributed marketing materials, and hired the clinic’s first employee, Clinic Administrator Diane Steward. On October 1, 2003, only nine months after thefounders began sharing their dreams, Haller Lake Christian Health Clinic opened its doors to its first patients.
Initially, the clinic was open on Wednesday evenings from 5 PM. to 9 P.M., and provided:
In the Medical Clinic: Medical exams and prescription drugs. Our volunteer medical director, Dr. Steve Creelrnan, was instrumental in working with LabCorps and Northwest Hospital so that lab tests and X-rays were provided for our patients at no cost. We also had a limited network of medical specialists available to our patients.
In the Dental Clinic: Dental exams, X-rays, cleanings, fillings, and for major restorative dental work, referrals when possible.
Because our mission was to share Christ, 21 volunteer was always present specifically to listen and pray with patients and to care for the whole person.
Providing quality care to patients was an important part of the mission. However, during those early days it proved to be difficult because the clinic administrator did not have a medical background. To fill that gap, Nina Currie, one of the members of our initial planning group, stepped forward and volunteered as Nurse Manager. She worked numerous hours with our doctors to develop policies and procedures, document them, and train our volunteers. She also was available to patients during the week to answer their questions, help them with prescription refills, and provide lab test results to them.
As news about the clinic spread throughout thecommunity, we began to grow, and the inevitable growing pains quickly followed. One of our first challenges was recruiting additional medical providers, including nurses and doctors. After months of trying unsuccessfully, we contacted CCHF, which provided technical assistance in that area through Cindy Kopelman of Shepherd’s Hope Clinic in Florida.
Our first significant blunder occurred in the dental clinic. When we opened, we had eight volunteer dentists. All seemed excited about volunteering, but none wanted to be involved in dental clinic operations. We had no volunteers, staff member; or board members who had any expertise in developing dental policies, procuring dental instrument and supplies, or maintaining dental equipment. In addition, we were unable to locate dental assistants or hygienists who were willing to serve.
However, we persevered, opening weekly. After operating only three months, we had a six month waiting list. Within six months of opening, we noticed that one dentist was volunteering at the clinic week after week. We finally realized that other dentists did not want to volunteer because the instruments were in poor condition, their dental assistants didn’t know how to assist, and they couldn’t locate supplies. Further, the dentists knew exactly who to call to cover their shifts. Eventually, our hard-working, faithful dentist burned out. About the same time, all the dental equipment bra down, and we couldn’t figure out how to get it fixed.
The waiting list had grown to eight months, and our pool of volunteer dentists had been reduced to zero. In February 2005, we closed the dental clinic.
At about that same time, CCHF invited us to a strategic planning conference. Our clinic administrator, a board member, and the clinic volunteer chaplain were able to attend. The conference was jammed with useful information that they carried back to the board. With this information, they were able to lead a discussion on developing the clinic’s vision for the next three to five years.
That board discussion clarified many things, including God’s call to us to demonstrate God’s love to our neighbors through dental care. Therefore, we persevered in rebuilding the dental clinic, even through discouragement. We eventually found a company that could repair our mobile dental unit. We also began to restructure our space once again so that we could add a second dental chair. At the same time, we held a series of meetings with dentists designed to identify the issues that were causing our dentists to leave. The overwhelming consensus among those dentists and others was that we needed to hire a dental manager who would be responsible for the daily operations of the dental clinic. We were able to raise money to fund that position, and in August 2005 we hired Oleg Shvartsur as our part-time dental manager. Finally in October, the Dental Clinic reopened on Friday mornings and twice a month on Wednesday evenings.
While developing our vision, we also determined that we would like to add a part-time executive director to our staffwho would be able to provide leadership and oversight in program development, partnership building, strategic planning, and Fund development. Once again, CCHF was a resource as we worked to determine if it was financially viable to add another staff person. When we were ready to look for funding to add the position, Marlene Soderstrom at CCHF provided technical assistance in grant-writing.
In September 2005, we had our first board retreat, with an emphasis on setting goals for 2006. Bruce jackson of CCHF facilitated the retreat. In addition to the expected activities of a facilitator, he encouraged us to set “faith goals” for 2006. As defined by Bruce, these were dreams that were completely beyond clinic resources at the time. In order for these dreams to become reality, God would have to intervene, direct, and provide. We listed seven dreams; at this time three are a reality, three are partially fulfilled, and we are still waiting for God to work in the last area.
The most amazing fulfilled dream is in our Dental Clinic, where we did nothing other than pray, watch God lead, and follow. Our dream was to provide more comprehensive dental care for our dental patients, specifically major restorative services. As with all other dental clinics serving the low-income uninsured, the majority of our patients came to us having not seen a dentist for many years. They needed root canals, crowns, extractions - and we had not been able to provide those services. Often, we weren’t even able to refer them to other dental clinics that would treat them because there are so few for the low-income population in our area. We were amazed when Trosvig Dental Labs came to us in June 2006, asking if they could provide lab services for crowns. With great excitement and gratitude, we accepted their services and developed the necessary policies and procedures. Our dental manager was able to get most of the necessary supplies and instruments donated, and purchased the rest. In December 2006, we began providing crowns on a limited basis, up to three per month. In February 2007, another dental lab agreed to provide lab services for three more crowns, and possibly as many as six more per month.
Another goal for 2006 was to provide professional counseling services. Once again, two counselors approached us to volunteer. Those volunteers worked with contacts at other clinics, obtained through CCHF, to develop policies and procedures. In 2006, we began professional on-site counseling to our patients with mental-health needs.
In August 2006, we received a three-year capacity building grant to hire an executive director. She began in September.
As 2006 ended, Haller Lake Christian Health Clinic was at capacity. We provided approximately eight hundred patient visits. Our challenge for 2007 is to find a way to serve more patients within our limited space. We are currently exploring opening the clinic on Friday afternoons, Saturday mornings, and/or Thursday evenings, and looking expectantly to see how God leads and provides all that is needed to expand.
Diane Steward, BA, is Executive Director of Haller Lake Christian Health Center in Seattle, Washington. She can be contacted at dianes [at] hlchc [dot] org.