Abell Salutes: Shepherd’s Clinic, for providing low-cost or no-cost health care services to the poor

January 2013 / Health and Human Services / Salutes
Shepherd's Clinic, for providing low-cost or no-cost health care services to the poor

Mark Goodspeed is a 46-year-old, divorced, unemployed construction worker with little prospects for employment; he is suffering from cardiovascular and stress-related problems and is being treated regularly by a cardiologist, a general practitioner, a psychiatrist, and a social worker in state-of-the-art facilities as often as three times in one week. For these health treatments, he pays nothing. 

Mr. Goodspeed is one of the more than 2,000 patients in 13 zip codes throughout Baltimore who have no health insurance but are treated (“being shepherded,” as executive director Jack VandenHengel puts it) at Shepherd’s Clinic at 2800 Kirk Avenue in the Coldsteam-Homestead-Montebello area as if they had. For their medical treatment—primary and/or specialty care (cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, gynecology physical therapy, podiatry), brief or extended—they pay what they can pay: sometimes $5.00; sometimes $10.00. More often than not, as is the case with Mark Goodspeed, they pay nothing. The services are provided by volunteers who put in as many as four to five hours a week—their time in service is coordinated so as to ensure the continuity and integrity of the doctor-patient relationship. 

The facility has a large waiting room (most all of the 20 chairs are filled by the 9:00 a.m. opening), eight fully equipped examination rooms, a lab, pharmaceutical storage, office space, a kitchen, a meeting room, and a wellness center. 

All medical services at the clinic are provided by active and retired physicians, nurses, and other health professionals who donate their time. Last year, 350 volunteers donated 16,542 hours of service. Funding of the clinic’s operation is made possible through grants from foundations. The Abell Foundation has been a contributor for 16 years; in 2011, it awarded the clinic $75,000. The cost to serve each patient for a year is $375.00; the cost per visit, $88.00. The clinic’s annual budget is approximately $750,000. 

Shepherd’s Clinic originated in the leadership of the University Baptist Church at University Parkway in a committed partnership with the Seventh Baptist Church at North Avenue and St. Paul Street, where VandenHengel was the pastor. He recalls, “We could see, all around us that people with nonemergency needs were flooding the emergency rooms of the nearby Union Memorial Hospital. These were not people with broken arms or knife wounds. These were people who needed medical help with diabetes, heart, gastro, and mental health issues. But they had no medical insurance, they had no health provider that would take care of them. 

“In the late 1980s, a friend, Hunt Gressit, who was working as a PA at Union Memorial, and I began a dialog among the leadership and the congregations of the churches we belonged to. We asked ourselves: What kind of program could bring relief to the poor who could not get medical insurance? So we, and another friend who had a background in social work, Ellen Udovich, began to think about a clinic that would meet the need. We drew up a model and began to seek funds, and with good fortune and the generous leadership and support of Union Memorial Hospital, in 1991, we were able to open in a basement in a row house at North and St. Paul. Dr. William Finney had just retired from Union Memorial, heard about us and what we were trying to do, and he immediately joined us and provided the much-needed linking with Union Memorial. 

“When it came time to decide the name of our clinic, we came together on ‘Shepherd’s Clinic,’ inspired by the Biblical model of the shepherd caring for his sheep.” 

Abell Salutes Shepherd’s Clinic, for providing low-cost or no-cost health services to the poor, and, as recently retired executive director Jack VandenHengel describes the experience, for “shepherding 2,000 people a year.”