- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

FLINT, Mich. (AP) - An abandoned home in Flint will see new life and a new purpose - better health for the community.

It’s another step toward bringing better and more complete health care to the homeless and poor in Flint.

Carriage Town Ministries will move its existing health care and health education offerings into a central location in a house across the street from the center, according to The Flint Journal ( https://bit.ly/1xdUXxR ).

When the project - a health screening and education clinic - is complete, it will provide better access to medical, dental and optometry services for Carriage Town residents, non-homeless but extremely poor men, women and children and walk-up access for anyone living on the street.

“Our objective is to catch things that could get worse if not attended to,” said Dallas Gatlin, Carriage Town Ministries executive director. “There’s a lot of work to be done there.”

Now, the services are out of sight, inside Carriage Town Ministries. The new clinic will be highly visible, with a sign in front so anyone can see the services are available.

Dr. Jack Stoker, who has been volunteering at Carriage Town for more than two years, said the house will change how they are able to help the community.

It will open up new opportunities.

“My goal is to help more of the homeless. Right now, we have kind of a sheltered group because it’s just in Carriage Town,” said Stoker, a physician at Valley Medical Center in Flint Township. “If we move over to the house across the street, then we can help more people off the street.”

Right now, Stoker visits Carriage Township Ministries every Wednesday and sees 11 to 15 patients. With the new and more accessible location, he believes he will see an increased volume of patients.

If it increases drastically, he will be looking to recruit more physicians in the Flint area to volunteer their time, Stoker said.

“I think it will benefit for accessibility. People right now don’t even know we’re there. If we can get out where they can see you, then it’s going to be reaching out to more people and to more of the community. There’s so many more people on the streets we can help.”

This would allow for more walk-up patients, which currently make up roughly 10 percent of the patients, Gatlin said.

There is plenty of work still to be done on the house before it’s ready for use. The project will cost $180,000, including design, construction and remodeling, with costs covered by donations and grants.

The most aggressive plan would have the new clinic open by fall 2015.

Ollie Morris, 55, has been at Carriage Town Ministries for 17 months after an infection on his spine and emergency back surgery put him out of work and unable to pay his bills.

In that time, Morris has visited Stocker about six times, getting help with back pain, correcting his medications and managing high blood pressure, which he didn’t know he had until seeing Stocker. The health services offered, and the expansion of the clinic, will be very helpful, Morris said.

“(The expansion) is a great idea. More people need to see the doctor,” Morris said. “It will help people that don’t have insurance and families in the area. … I think there’s a lot of benefits from it.”

Carriage Town Ministries began in 1950 as the Flint Rescue Mission on the banks of the Flint River at Grand Traverse Street.

Today, it’s located in Flint’s historic Carriage Town neighborhood. It has 125 beds, the most in Genesee County, according to Carriage Town Ministries’ website.

Each year, the center provides 42,000 nights of rest, distributes 120,000 meals and provides 110,000 pieces of clothing free of charge. Carriage Town Ministries gives a sense of safety, learning, responsibility, structure and productivity, the website states.

The health care services started at Carriage Town Ministries more than two years ago with the help of groups such as Hurley Medical Center and Flint Rotary. It has helped bring health screenings, education and other assistance to Carriage Town residents, staff and others over the years.

Stocker leads the medical services, Dr. Gary Campbell leads optometric services and Dr. Jerry McClane runs chiropractic services.

In the future, Dr. Jim Rachor will lead dental services in the new clinic.

Stoker now uses one small room with a desk, filing cabinet, two medical beds, a scale and other medical supplies.

Campbell, who does exams for eyeglasses only, uses another small room down the hall, where he has one exam chair and a rack full of donated glasses.

The clinic services are not just about seeing a doctor. It’s about educating a population that usually shies away doctors and hospitals, Gatlin said. It’s about sending them to an appropriate place that can help. And it’s about getting them to understand the importance of staying current with their health.

The benefit of the clinic at Carriage Town is that is creates a safe, comfortable place for those who are familiar with Carriage Town and the staff there. There’s nothing for them to be concerned about, because they already know the doctor, even if it’s just in passing, Gatlin said.

Once they are have a health screening, then the next steps can be taken, he said. The patient can be referred to other places for help if there are more serious issues, they can get help enrolling for health insurance and they can be given information to help stay healthy.

Helping patients get help before health issues arise and keeping them out of the emergency rooms helps reduce medical costs and is a step toward better community health, Gatlin said. And that’s what Carriage Town Ministries is aiming for.

“The beauty about the (new clinic) is having a door open where people can walk in, bringing health to the neighborhood,” Gatlin said.

Carriage Town’s plan to create more health care options for the poor and homeless is something that has gained a lot of traction in Flint over the past couple of years. There are also options through Hamilton Community Health Network, Hurley Medical Center and a new Genesys health clinic downtown.

Over the past two years, Genesee Health System - formerly Genesee County Community Mental Health - also transformed its perspective to offer a more holistic approach to health care.

Genesee Community Health Center, which is a part of the Genesee Health System, has opened three outreach clinics since 2012 to help serve the poor, homeless, uninsured and underinsured.

Gatlin said what Carriage Town Ministries is doing is just another piece of the puzzle to help bring better health to the community. With direct access to the patients, it makes sense to offer health care options.

“Here’s our mission: We want to see people who aren’t going to/probably won’t go to the doctor, while we have them,” Gatlin said. “With Carriage Town Ministries visitors, the beauty of what we do is we see them every day. Our objective is to catch things that could get worse if not attended to.”

They are able to monitor for hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes and other health issues, Stoker said.

“I am very excited to get into the house, because I think we can open up so many more services to so many more people,” he said. “I know there are so many more free agencies. We are not here to compete with anybody. We are here to help. … Just to get services to the community.”

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Information from: The Flint Journal, https://www.mlive.com/flint

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