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Patient dedication

"Patient dedication" Continued...

Issue: "Race to the finish," Nov. 3, 2012

Jill Lipson, a patient education coordinator, set up the clinic’s well-organized calendar of events, including supermarket tours—Spanish-speaking patients tour Compare Foods, and English-speaking patients tour Food Lion. Some of the education programs are limited to specific patients who need special attention, Lipson says: “We have to do it hands-on to really get it.”

Clinics often woo patients through cooking classes. Alene H. is one of a dozen people gathered inside a large class-style kitchen at Church Health Center Wellness in Memphis. Today they’re learning how to make stuffed vinaigrette chicken and a cucumber salad. 

Alene has attended every cooking class offered over the past year: “I’ve learned to like things I didn’t think I would like.” Squash and artichokes for example: “Now I bake a lot of food instead of frying. Catfish, chicken … you know. I bake it now.” She moves the food around in the skillet. “I use less salt. Sometimes you don’t have to use salt at all.” 

Linda Stewart, 52, has lost 20 pounds since coming to the cooking classes. She’s lowered her A1C level, which measures blood sugar, from 11 to 7: “I’ve learned how to cook with in-season vegetables.” She bakes instead of frying and uses more herbs. 

Many of the women come to the classes for fellowship. Helen, 69, isn’t as concerned with rapid weight loss as she is with keeping up with her friends. She walks regularly and wants to lower her blood pressure, but for now she’s here for conversation. 

Julia Brown, 40, agrees: “The members here drag me to every class,” she says, laughing. She started coming to the Wellness Center after suffering from congestive heart failure. Her doctor said if she didn’t get her heart rate up, she wouldn’t see her daughter graduate from high school. Now, she comes to cooking classes, workout classes, and the gym upstairs where she says friendly trainers work with her to reach goals. So far she’s lost 10 pounds: “I look forward to getting up. I feel healthier.” 

Barbara Golden, 63, suffered two heart attacks that initially left her paralyzed from the waist down. You can’t tell that by looking at her now: Thanks to years of therapy at the Wellness Center, she’s learning to cook. She takes recipes home to pass on to her grandson, breaking generational habits in the process.

With reporting by Tiffany Owens, Christina Darnell, and Kira Clark

Broken spirits

A day in the life of a Buffalo clinic

By Chelsea Kolz Boes

BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS: Patients arrive at Jericho Road Family Practice.
Rocco Laurienzo/Genesis
BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS: Patients arrive at Jericho Road Family Practice.

Nurse practitioner Takesha Leonard sits behind a desk at Jericho Road Family Practice on Genesee Street in Buffalo, N.Y. It’s a clinic with a mission “to demonstrate Jesus’ unconditional love to the whole person.” She wears a stethoscope around her neck, and a long skirt. She also wears very high heels: gray with white letters on them, and has an extra pair of heels, red, shoved under the desk.

The 4-foot-11-inch Leonard grew up in the Bronx and came to Jericho Road two years ago, where she serves African-Americans, Latinos, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and others. A sign on the front door lists office hours in 10 languages.

The Family Practice delivers babies and offers sick care, saving Buffalo residents from going to the ER every time they are sick. The staff also works to prevent chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. Leonard convinced Jimmy, an Iraqi client with a convenience store across the street, to sell fruits, vegetables, and grilled food instead of the greasy food that was helping to create more patients. 

At first only about eight clients came to the practice daily, but then the employees “went door-knockin’.” They learned that neighbors couldn’t afford food, much less brand-name medication. Now Family Practice sees 20-35 patients daily. 

The greatest thing about the work, for Leonard, has been including spiritual help in the practice. She created a form for patients to fill out asking them to comment on their personal health—and she left a box at the bottom asking about their spiritual well-being. She wasn’t prepared for the response she received to the “spiritual” box. Patients began to flood her with their spiritual concerns, and often with the simple request: “Pray for me.” 

She had no plan for processing people’s spiritual needs. (Yvette, the secretary in the next room, said, “I told you not to make that form!”) Patients started coming for counseling instead of medical problems. Jericho Road CEO Dr. Glick isn’t going to pay her for being a spiritual adviser, but Leonard still endeavors to help the people spiritually. The worst part about it all is the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness: “I wish I coulda done more.” 

The day I visited, Leonard took a call about a woman living in a shelter with her nine children, who had been bitten by rats. Leonard expects them to come in later this afternoon, although she really doesn’t have time to see them: “You cry, but you have to help them so you can go home and sleep at night.” 

In the waiting room, the carpet is stained and the white top of the plastic play desk is scribbled all over with crayon. A pregnant mother comes in with two small children, a girl and a boy. She leans against the counter and commands, “Go play.” The girl has stringy blonde hair, wears a ruffled skirt with pink polka dots. She announces that her name is “Ladybug” and also Gabby, then waves three fingers, indicating her age, then says, “Mommy, my heart is breakin’.” 

Wyatt, the boy, moans constantly. He obeys his mother and begins to scoot across the floor on a plastic bike, which he rides backward. “Come over here, I’ll give you a book,” says the secretary from behind the desk. 

A slim black girl comes in, hair shorn, T-shirt torn (in a manner that indicates artistry rather than poverty). She wears an African wrap around the waist. She draws out an iPhone. She examines her fingernails. A Korean woman in the row of chairs on the left has a toddler boy on her lap. She looks at the point of tears. A slow-moving woman emerges from the hallway containing the exam rooms, and heads toward the bathroom in the waiting room. Finding it occupied, she sighs and takes out a wrinkled tissue. 

While Wyatt learns to propel himself backward—the strings of his white hair fly up like spaghetti—no one watches. Then the pregnant mom slings Wyatt over her shoulder and tickles his stomach. She hangs him upside down from her lap and his hair falls like Einstein’s and his face looks like a little sun. He laughs. 

Gabby stares at the black girl from a proximity too near for politeness. But the black girl just falls asleep against the wall. The Korean toddler begins to cry. His mother kisses and kisses and kisses him. In the hallway Takesha Leonard travels between exam rooms, still wearing her high heels. 

On the walls in the hall: Chart holders, an eye chart, a map of the world, a poster featuring a pill bottle that says “Rx. Chastity. Take Once Daily Till Marriage. Waiting is Easier.” 

Even in this waiting room.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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