Free medical clinic set to open by Sept. 1

By: Jeremy Selweski | Online Only | Published August 4, 2011

 The FernCare Free Clinic was created by a small group of volunteers and is operated by a 12-member board. From left, board members Robert Babut, John Sterritt, Ann Heler, Joann Willcock and Dick Willcock celebrate the hanging of the sign at their new permanent facility off Nine Mile Road on Aug. 2.

The FernCare Free Clinic was created by a small group of volunteers and is operated by a 12-member board. From left, board members Robert Babut, John Sterritt, Ann Heler, Joann Willcock and Dick Willcock celebrate the hanging of the sign at their new permanent facility off Nine Mile Road on Aug. 2.

Photo by David Schreiber

The FernCare Free Clinic moved one step closer to opening its doors with the installation of new signage definitively marking it as a long-term fixture in the city.

The signs — bearing bright green, three-dimensional lettering and the FernCare logo — were hung up Aug. 2 on the front and side of the facility’s permanent location, 459 E. Nine Mile Road, at the northwest corner of Nine Mile and Paxton Street. FernCare Board President Ann Heler was thrilled to see things coming to fruition for the clinic after more than three years of planning and hard work.

“This is all very exciting,” she said. “We are on schedule to open between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1. Everyone has been wanting to move into our own location sooner rather than later, and now it’s finally happening.”

FernCare began leasing its new 2,100-square-foot home from Credit Union One earlier this year. Heler projected that the total cost of the renovation work, which officially got under way in June, would amount to between $200,000 and $230,000 by the time it’s completed later this month.

In December 2009, the U.S. Congress awarded FernCare a $148,000 grant to go toward the purchase of medical equipment and other durable goods. That contribution provided a major funding boost to the organization, but it could not be used toward the leasing or remodeling of the building.

FernCare Board member Dick Willcock, who is supervising the construction work at 459 E. Nine Mile Road, said that volunteers have already put several hundred hours of time into the facility. He estimated that he has devoted more than 100 hours to the task.

“People don’t realize everything that goes into a massive project like this,” he said. “We’ve been lucky to learn a lot through all the good advice that we’ve received from other free clinics in the area. This is something that we’ve all been waiting a very long time for, but it’s been a labor of love.”

Many days have been spent transforming the building — which, until a few months ago, was vacant except for some old furniture and supplies from Credit Union One — into a viable medical clinic. Once FernCare is up and running, it will feature six exam rooms, a laboratory and a pharmacy. Its waiting room will devote an entire wall to listing the names of every person, business and organization that has made a donation to the clinic.

FernCare serves residents between the ages of 19 and 64 who are either uninsured or underinsured. It provides medical, mental health and dental care, as well as social work, generic medication and spiritual health counseling. However, patient need and the availability of volunteers ultimately dictates what the facility can offer, Heler said.

Since August 2010, FernCare has been operating a temporary clinic out of the Kulick Community Center on the first and third Saturdays of every month. The facility has about 16 volunteers — doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians and more — and can serve 30 to 40 patients per day, Heler said.

During that time, FernCare has received more than 550 patient visits and served over 170 unique patients at the Kulick Center. Most have come from Ferndale and its neighboring cities, Heler noted, but others have visited from as far away as Burton, Milford and Canton. One patient even made the journey all the way from northern Ohio.

For FernCare Board Secretary John Sterritt, the high level of demand makes the recent renovation work even more crucial as a means of increasing the clinic’s visibility.

“Having a sign that stays up 24/7, I think a lot of people will see it and know that we’re here to stay,” he said. “The need is not going away anytime soon. As far as I can tell, it only seems to be getting worse.”

Moments later, a mother with three young children walked up to the building and glanced at the sign that was being hung above the front door. She asked Heler what services the clinic provides and when it would be open. A short time later, a middle-aged couple approached the facility with similar questions.

At the new building, FernCare will maintain its schedule of offering medical care on the first and third Saturdays of the month, Heler said. In addition, on one weekday — the exact day has yet to be determined — during the second and fourth weeks of the month, the clinic hopes to offer dental and mental health care, as well as the services of specialists such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, nutritionists and massage therapists.

Heler pointed out that FernCare will soon be hosting a public forum to discuss the details of the clinic with anyone who is interested. She is eager to put into action something that has been on the horizon for so long, an idea hatched by a small group of volunteers looking to help people in need.

“It’s just extraordinary to see this all come together,” she said. “I can’t believe how far we’ve come since we first began talking about this almost four years ago. We are absolutely the little engine that could.”

For more information on FernCare, call (248) 677-2273 or visit www.ferncare.org.