FernCare Feature

By, Crystal A. Proxmire


When a group of caring residents went looking for information on how to start a free health care clinic in Ferndale, they found that there simply wasn’t a status quo.  “It turns out that no free clinic was started the same way,” said FernCare Board President Ann Heler.  “We’re creating something new.  We are absolutely going into new territory.”


But they carried on, and two years after first beginning the process The FernCare free clinic is expected to open this spring. The clinic, currently under construction at 459 E. 9 Mile, will provide free non-emergency medical and mental health services for adults age 21-64, generic medicine distribution, community resource referrals, limited dental services and a possible venue for some holistic health treatments. 


FernCare also provides education and other health resources free to the community.  Even before opening the clinic doors, they have brought several services to people in the area. 


Their educational Let’s Talk Health Series has talked about Asthma and Allergies (http://www.ferndale115.com/p11asthma.html) and the benefits of Indoor Plants for Health.  In the coming months they’ll be teaching us about Mental Health – The Hardest Thing to Talk About (Jan 7), Garden Time! (Feb. 4), Chair Fitness and Exercise (Mar. 4) and more.  The talks are on the first Thursday of each month from 7-8:30pm at the Kulick Community Center at 1201 Livernois.  All talks are free.


Each month FernCare teams up with the Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency (OLHSA) to bring a mobile health clinic to the city on the first Thursday of each month. The clinic is parked at the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency (OLHSA) at 345 E. 9 Mile across from Credit Union One from 9 - 12 pm. The clinic then moves to the Ferndale Foods parking lot at 600 W. 9 Mile from 1:30 - 4 pm. 


They also offer a resource page on their website www.ferncare.org, which lists other places where people can get low-cost or free medical services in the area. 


The idea of a free health clinic had been tossed about for years. But it wasn’t until a group of community activists were sitting around after a Citizens for Fair Ferndale meeting in November 2007 complaining about the lack of affordable health care for the poor, that they finally decided it was up to them to make a difference.


Former Ferndale Mayor Bob Porter came up with the name FernCare and sent out applications for volunteers for the FernCare Board.  Their first public forum was held at AJs Café in March of 2008, and their first official board meeting was held in April 2008.  The board had ten people at the time.  Current members are Bob Babut, Treasure, John Sterritt, Secretary, Kate Baker, Jeanne Cavanaugh, Brian Harris, Denise Lillvis, Andrea Nelson, Matt Nowaczok, Joann Willcock, and Richard Willcock.  Former Mayor Porter, Current Mayor Craig Covey, and Ferndale Friends Publisher Stephanie Loveless are Honary Board Members.  And Chaplain Ross Hulbert and Ann Warner serve as liaisons to the Board.


Ann Heler took on the role of Board President and began the task of trying to figure out how to get a free clinic started.  She connected with Mary Ellen Howard of the Cabrini Free Clinic, which has been serving the people of SW Detroit since 1950.  This is the oldest free clinic in the US and has had 58 years to grow into the organization it is today.  Heler met with Charissa Shawcross of the Joy-Southfield Clinic and learned that they grew from their affiliation with the Methodist Church.  And Brian Harris of the Gary Burnstein Community Health Clinic in Pontiac told her the story of how their clinic got started through doctors in honor of Dr. Burnstein, who saw patients for free from 1997-2003 when he passed away.  The clinic opened in his name the same year, thanks to generous benefactors.


Each free clinic offered inspiration and ideas, but none had begun as an independent, grass-roots project.  Heler and the other volunteers decided to carry forward and figure it out as they went along.  And their success, despite of the uncertainty, has come about thanks to the hundreds of people who have gotten involved so far.


Board members volunteer on the building committee, the clinic committee or the fundraising committee. 


Over 250 health care professionals have contacted the group about volunteering once the clinic opens, and hundreds of people have attended and helped through a variety of fundraisers, including concerts (see http://www.ferndale115.com/p13band.html -), dinners, and partnerships with businesses.  So far they have raised $35,000 that will go directly towards medical care.  Chaplain Hulbert held a fair at Martin Road Park to raise money for holistic counseling for those who may seek it. (see http://www.ferndale115.com/sept1p14hulbert.html), while Darlene Berger of Community Health Acupuncture gave all the money raised in a day to the cause (see http://www.ferndale115.com/p4stuck.html).  Many other businesses and groups have done similar fundraisers.   A recent $150,000 budget allocation ( see http://www.ferndale115.com/p9fcmoney.html) will help cover the remaining construction costs, as well as help keep the clinic operating. 


“We’re so grateful that we’ve been able to do this, and we want people to know that all they’ve given will be put right into care,” Heler says.  “Even after we open, we’ll always be looking for ways to raise money and keep the clinic going…We don’t want to open up and then end up having to close our doors.”


For more information about FernCare and how you can get involved, please go to www.ferncare.org