As you know, dear readers, Saint Mary's Healthcare has pulled the plug on its support for Catherine's Care Center, a medical clinic housed in the basement of St. Alphonsus church providing care for 2,500 uninsured or impoverished members of our community. Saint Mary's contribution netted out to about $110,000 annually, representing one-third of the clinic's budget. So Saint Mary's support was substantial, perhaps critical to the clinic's continued operation.
The reason for Saint Mary's cutting off the clinic is a bit murky, as we reported last week. The hospital's senior executive staff did not make the decision, and their official statement explaining the cut does not add up. Saint Mary's claims that Catherine's Care Center is duplicative of healthcare services provided by other community clinics supported by the hospital. However, a survey of those clinics reveals that will not pick up the Care Center's patients in its absence.
Catherine's Care Center is unique among the community clinics affiliated with Saint Mary's. Unlike the other half dozen affiliates, Catherine's Care Center is not a direct operation of the hospital. Instead it is program with an independent board of directors belonging to the Creston Neighborhood Association, which Saint Mary's hospital and St. Alphonsus church support. Furthermore, the Care Center is not under the thumb of the 800-pound gorilla at Saint Mary's, Advantage Health.
With this independence, Catherine's Care Center since its inception a decade ago has been free to fill a big gap in the provision of healthcare in Grand Rapids, and even across the county. It is open to all people seeking medical attention who in turn pay only as much as they can afford -- which mostly means no payment at all. So the clinic helps those people who have fallen through the cracks of the present healthcare system; the people who have no insurance but do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. Something not so obvious, these are also the people who do not have a political constituency identifying their needs, such as HIV/AIDS sufferers who have the McAuley Center or the homeless who have the Heartside Clinic.
Catherine's Care Center has become the place people have found a refuge when there has been no other place to turn to in the local healthcare system. Indeed, the emergency rooms at Saint Mary's and Spectrum hospitals refer indigent patients to the Care Center. Over the years, the Care Center has developed a clientele of 2,500 patients who on average visit the clinic four times a years -- and all are welcomed and treated on the clinic's meager budget. But that's not all that Catherine's Care Center does. It also helps at least another 2,500 people in the northeast side community surrounding St. Alphonsus with health programs including aerobics classes, stress management, a diabetes support group, an award-winning health screening program at the Leonard Terrace and Creston Plaza housing projects, immunization fairs, pap screenings, etc. On top of all that the Care Center provides valuable opportunities for nursing internships.
If Catherine's Care Center closes its doors, the other community clinics under Saint Mary's control will not be able to absorb its patients. Nor will the Cherry Street group of clinics, which Saint Mary's supports along with Spectrum Health. Right now the waiting list for care at a Cherry Street clinic is three months. Therefore, Saint Mary's official statement that it will no longer support Catherine's Care Center because it replicates health services that can be provided by other clinics is not true.
So what is the truth behind Saint Mary's decision to cut off this valuable member of our community's healthcare system? More on that later.