By Michelle Lantz
LANSING, MI — When Conrad Smith of Lansing was laid off from a 20-year dry walling career last December, he never dreamed the next few months would bring a diagnosis of Stage 2 prostate cancer from a team of volunteer doctors and an opportunity to volunteer his skills to give the gift of health to someone else.
But last week, one day after Smith took his wife of 23 years to a doctor’s appointment at Care Free Medical, the free primary care clinic in Lansing that helped diagnose his cancer, he found himself as a volunteer dry waller at the Care Free Dental Clinic, set to open in June in the same building. Smith began putting up the walls that would serve as dental bays for other patients with little or no insurance.
“For all they’ve done for me, to help them out like this is not out of my way at all,” said Smith. “I can spend time here right now instead of just sitting home waiting for surgery.
Smith said if it wasn’t for this clinic he would have just let his medical problem go. “I was at that point where I couldn’t go to the doctor because I couldn’t afford it. I’d just have them call in a prescription for an antibiotic and I’d be done with it.”
Like Smith, nearly one in four Lansing residents is without health insurance. Most will let medical problems worsen until they end up visiting emergency rooms at local hospitals, placing a strain on the quantity and quality of care for those with true emergency needs. By seeing patients for routine primary care, it’s easier to prevent acute care problems, which add to the cost of treatment.
Care Free Medical, founded by Dr. Barry Saltman who turned his Mason clinic into a free primary health clinic after he retired in 2004, serves people who might otherwise not seek primary medical care because of the cost. Since inception, the clinic has served more than 4,000 patients and recorded more than 12,600 visits.
The clinic’s dozens of volunteer physicians, nurses, counselors, medical students and related professionals clock more than 270 hours per week serving patients from Ingham, Eaton, Barry, Clinton, Shiawassee and Jackson counties.
“The demand for free medical care at the original clinic in Mason greatly surpassed our wildest dreams,” commented, Dr. Saltman. “It strained our ability to serve in a comprehensive and empathetic manner and prompted us to find a larger facility. The clinic opened temporarily on S. Pennsylvania in a doctor’s office donated by a local physician. Last week it moved a few blocks south to 5135 S. Pennsylvania and began serving patients again.
Much of the equipment, supplies and manpower for the new offices were donated by other doctors and area professionals who were retiring or who no longer needed the equipment. Additionally, individual donors and business people have donated money, staffing and resources to the clinic. The facility is equipped with multiple patient rooms, an on-site lab, nursing and physician stations, free pharmaceuticals area and an ample waiting area.
In addition to thorough primary care, medical services range from counseling to gynecology, naturalization physicals for immigration to neurology. And compassion remains underlying thread of the entire clinic.
Michael Martinez of Lansing, who had a physical at the new clinic during last week, commented, “I felt very comfortable here from the moment I walked in.”
Martinez had not received a complete physical in 10 years prior to visiting Care Free. He was seen not only by the chief medical director, Steven Dupuis, DO, but was first attended to by an MSU medical student, Brittany Dawn Carter of Detroit. Carter volunteers at Care Free a few hours each week.
“Working directly with patients helps me put into action what I learned in my classes. It helps me build confidence as a physician because it’s real life, not a simulated world.”
Dr. Dupuis stated, “Today’s medical students will inherit the health insurance crisis, so it’s important that they learn empathy and comprehensive care early on. The students here devote hours to each patient and address the entire person’s needs beautifully.”
As many as five medical students can be seen onsite at a given time, significantly adding to the number of patients who can be seen in a given week. During the first week at the new office, approximately 100 new patients were seen.
Smith concluded, “The doctors here talk to me like a person instead of being talked down to like some places I’ve been. They are easy to communicate with and I don’t have to decode what they’re saying.”
For more information or for an appointment, call Care Free Medical at (517) 887-5922.
Care Free Medical
All services are free to those with little or
Dental care – to begin in early June
Mental Health Counseling
Smoking Cessation Therapy
Free Pharmaceutical Program
Free Laboratory Services
Referrals to Community Providers
Osteopathic Back Manipulation