Free medical clinic in Springs reopens
After shutting down in July, Mission Medical Center has rallied enough contributions to opens its doors
BY DEBBIE KELLEY email@example.com
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
After laying off all its staff and shutting down in July, citing financial distress, a free, faith-based health clinic, Mission Medical Center in Colorado Springs, has rallied enough contributions to reopen its doors. “We literally ran out of money,” said Zelna Joseph, who took over as executive director in February and now is executive director on a volunteer basis. With federal pandemic-relief funding ending in June, several grants disappearing and just a few churches tithing, the organization could not meet payroll and let staff go so they could apply for unemployment benefits, she said. Now, a total of 68 volunteers, of whom 25 are volunteer medical providers, are primed to reboot operations. “We have volunteers willing to come back,” Joseph said. “We’ve had a loyal volunteer base.” Three offerings have resumed, and primary care services could begin again as soon as this week, Joseph said. A dental clinic at Mission Medical Center at 2125 E. La Salle St., is seeing patients on Wednesdays, with eight volunteer dentists providing services, she said. Vouchers for free eyeglasses from Abba Eye Care also now are available, along with medical durable equipment, such as wheelchairs, crutches, bathroom assistance supplies and other items needed for at-home care for seniors or anyone convalescing. Other services, including free overthe-counter prescription medications, behavioral health care and diabetes management counseling, also will come online soon, Joseph said. Ten exam rooms are awaiting patients, which could flood the office before the week’s over, she said, pending additional grant funding. “It’ll be a slow process,” Joseph said. For example, primary care may only open partially and not for the full four days it had been open, she said. Mission Medical Center has been known for catering to uninsured and underinsured residents who have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma and other illnesses. Since the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a federal law that had required everyone to have medical insurance but since 2019 no longer does – although some states do – many clients are the working poor, said Kristine Bristow, family nurse practitioner for Mission Medical, who is poised to become the new clinic director. “People who don’t qualify for Medicaid but who can’t afford health insurance,” she said. The clinic’s phone, where people have been able to leave messages, has been fielding 30 to 40 calls a day, Joseph said. People want to know when they might reopen or need prescriptions refilled. And some ask how they can help. Clients have been referred to other safety-net clinics in town, such as Open Bible Medical Clinic, SET Family Medical Clinics and Peak Vista Community Health Centers. An appeal for one emergency grant was denied; others are “on the table,” Joseph said., adding, “We know we have much work to do to put a plan in place to ensure that Mission Medical Center obtains financial stability.” But Joseph isn’t giving up. While some were doubtful the center would reopen, Joseph never lost faith that the closure was a temporary blip for the nonprofit organization that was founded nearly 20 years ago, using donations from many local churches. She’s been learning the organization’s medical electronic records and scheduling system and has been out courting potential donors. The work is familiar. Joseph, a former Colorado Springs City Councilor, was brought in to head another safety net clinic, SET Family Medical Clinics, in 2005, at a time when that organization, also Christian-based, was considering closure. “Everybody was bleeding or dead on the battlefield,” she said. Joseph ran SET for 6 1/2 years and implemented a new 5-year strategic plan, which led to growth and stability. She thinks Mission Medical can realize the same future. “I believe in this work, and there’s a big need for safety-net clinics,” she said. Other medical services for low-income and indigent residents have struggled financially post-pandemic as well. 365 Health, formerly 9Health Fair, earlier this month closed 30 locations statewide, including four in Colorado Springs, according to its website. The nonprofit organization had operated since 1980, conducting health fairs and contracting with Quest Diagnostics for free or low-cost blood screenings. During the pandemic, 365 Heath provided vaccination centers and launched a telehealth service. “The organization’s Board of Directors made this difficult decision after careful consideration of evolving community needs, financial challenges and the broader healthcare landscape,” its website says. “The Board is exploring transitioning its remaining assets to another community-focused organization.” Joseph said she’s grateful for the $20,000 the organization has raised since July, yet rehiring staff — who are still working as volunteers — will push monthly expenses to about $25,000. To donate to Mission Medical, go to https://missionmedicalcenter. org/donate. To schedule an appointment for service, call 719-219-3402, or go to https://missionmedicalcenter.org.