FernCare Sign Puts Clinic's Stamp on Ferndale
"This is our stamp," FernCare Free Clinic President Ann Heler said Tuesday afternoon.
The FernCare Free Clinic is just steps away from having an actual brick-and-mortar home.
The free clinic, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary Sunday, had its sign attached Tuesday afternoon on its new building at 459 E. Nine Mile Rd.
"This is our stamp," FernCare President Ann Heler said.
Credit Union One, which is just across the street, owns the building but has leased it to FernCare.
"It's not free, but it's an extremely generous lease," Heler said.
The relationship between Credit Union One and FernCare began when Ross Hulbert, a Credit Union One employee who is also a chaplain, a Ferndale auxiliary police officer and a volunteer for FernCare, approached Credit Union One CEO Gary Moody about the free clinic.
After that discussion, Credit Union One went to FernCare and asked it to look at the property on East Nine Mile.
"It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Heler said.
"We're thrilled that they will be up and running soon," said Judi Desilets, public relations director for Credit Union One. "They've done so much work."
FernCare holds its clinic on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month at the Gerry Kulick Community Center. On those days, its many volunteers descend onto the Kulick Center, unload their equipment from garages and basements, haul it over to Kulick, set up, serve patients, break down and return the equipment to storage areas in basements and garages.
"(A permanent location) is good for staff, for patients, for cost," said FernCare Secretary John Sterritt. "Unloading that stuff every other week incurs a cost of time."
The building on East Nine Mile will hold all of the equipment, and FernCare volunteers will no longer need to transport it, set it up and break it down.
The new building will have six exam rooms, a pharmacy (which will carry only generic drugs and will be under lock and key), a back office area and a lobby. Heler said two of the exam rooms are large enough to turn into dental exam rooms, which is something FernCare will pursue in the future. Currently, the free clinic does not offer dental care.
The brick-and-mortar building is also important in attracting large foundation sponsorship. "These foundations want to see a real structure before they donate," Heler said.
Currently, FernCare is funded by private family donations, through fundraisers the clinic holds throughout the year and through a $148,000 federal grant. Heler said the grant goes toward equipment and other assets only, not toward renovation of the new building, which she estimates will cost about $200,000 to $230,000.
"Out of pocket, FernCare probably paid under $30,000 (for the renovation)," she said. "So many people donated their time, materials and equipment to get this done."
Ferndale board member Dick Willcock said hundreds of volunteer hours went into renovating the new FernCare building. "I know I've put in over a hundred hours myself," he said.
"So many people have donated equipment and labor, they donated their backs," Heler said. "It's like the little engine that could ... and is doing."
Yet it's not done. Heler said that the clinic should be up and running in the new location between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1, "but closer to September," she said.
While FernCare volunteers finish the work at 459 E. Nine Mile Road, the clinic will continue to operate at the Kulick Center. "We're going to keep the Kulick Center running smoothly while we get this done," Heler said.
A year ago, when the clinic served its first patient at 9 a.m. Aug. 7, 2010, it opened with a waiting list. When it moves into the new building, sometime within the next 30 days, it will move in with a waiting list.
"The only difference is that (the waiting list) is longer," Heler said.
She said the most common illnesses that FernCare medical volunteers treat are diabetes, hypertension and thyroid issues.
"Basically, it's untreated chronic illnesses," Sterritt said.
Heler said the clinic has treated 170 individual patients, but that's not the impressive number, she said. "We've had 550 patient visits. That's patients coming back (for treatment)."
Heler and the FernCare board hope that when the clinic operates out of its own building, it will be able to expand beyond the two days it offers services now. But that all depends on volunteers.
"We have limited resources. We need money, we need staffing, we need both," Heler said. "To add hours, we need both."
In any event, FernCare will have a home all its own — not just for cost-effective purposes, not just to attract new foundation sponsorship and not just a place to house all of the FernCare equipment, but as its own stamp for the community, as Heler said.
"We're going to be here, we are a part of the community," she said. "All of these volunteers are so committed to that. Look what we have done."
And even after a year, Heler is still looking to the future. "This is just the beginning!" she said.
The FernCare Free Clinic will participate in the annual Ferndale nonprofit kickball tournament at 10 a.m. Aug. 13 at Martin Road Park. Participation fee is $20. Contact Joann Willcock at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Ferndale resident Julia Music seeks donations and team members for the Heart of Detroit run Saturday for FernCare. Sign up or donate here.