BY SANDRA SANCHEZ
Assistant opinion editor
At the Family Abuse Center’s Waco shelter, where hundreds of women and children go to escape domestic abuse, a woman with the kindest of faces stood shaking before me on Tuesday evening. She was visibly distraught and scared.
She and her child had been whisked to the shelter a few nights ago by police. They had fled an abusive home life with just “the clothes on our backs,” she told me. Her child was ill with a respiratory infection and other conditions and needed medications. Medicines that they had hurriedly left without.
And so she was extremely grateful for an on-site urgent care clinic — operated Tuesday evenings at the shelter by local volunteer physicians — that gave her child free prescriptions that very day.
I’m purposely not revealing her name, the gender or age of her child, nor the center’s location. The domestic abuse victims who find their way to the center’s bullet-proof doors are literally running for their lives and could be endangered if found by their attackers.
That’s why having a medical clinic on site is so important in allowing these women to stay hidden. Yet it seems to be a rarity among shelters, Family Abuse Center executive director Kathy Reid told me. In fact, Reid explained the success of their clinic before 100 people at a national meeting held in Washington, D.C., earlier this week by the nonprofit organization Futures Without Violence. She said it is possibly one of only six shelters in the nation and three in Texas to offer such on-site medical care. It appears to be among the most successful and so far has served 55 clients.
It really is quite an impressive operation that relies on the generosity of the community; in particular the nonprofit Family Health Center. And remarkably, the idea originated three years ago with a meager $10,000 federal grant that center administrators have prudently managed to stretch and build upon.
“It really is a great partnership,” Reid said as she gave me a shelter tour. “This is a critical facility, as some of our clients are actually stalked when they try to visit their doctors.”
The clinic is held in one room of the 55-bed shelter facility that serves seven counties. The urgent care clinic opened in November and was initially run every other Tuesday. In June it began operating every week. An average of five families seek free medical care, tests and medicines there each week.
The Family Health Center donated a medical exam table for the clinic, said Dr. Dianne Sawyer, a retired OB/GYN who oversees the clinic and draws in doctor volunteers. Most of the volunteer physicians work or have worked for the Family Health Center, which itself treats low-income area patients. “Most physicians are interested in helping out,” Sawyer said. “They and local nurses really have hearts of gold for this very good cause.”
Most of the original grant paid for prescriptions and tests, like pregnancy, blood pressure, diabetes and HIV test kits. They have been able to get additional grants from other local businesses, like Allergan Inc., which has given prescriptions.
All follow-up care is done free at local Family Health Center clinics. Patients are driven to the clinics by shelter staff. Likewise, shelter staff give all new intakes information on the Family Health Center and help them set up wellness visits and aid them with indigent-care card applications.
Reid, a former pastor who worked helping the homeless in Austin, says many abused women aren’t used to the attention. The special care the Family Health Center affords them lifts them up during dark times in their lives.
This is but one small outreach program the Family Health Center operates in our community. They serve 50,000 of our area’s poor. I suspect that not many people know about the shelter’s urgent care clinic and how Family Health Center gives of its services to help out there. I wonder if McLennan County Commissioners are aware of it as they prepare to vote on a $79,000 reduction in county funds to the Family Health Center in the 2013 fiscal budget.
I wonder if they know that reducing funds could prevent another kind-faced woman fleeing for her life from getting follow-up care for her child?
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at 757-5723 or firstname.lastname@example.org.