News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Stephanie Salter

April 17, 2010

Stephanie Salter: Rx for a troubled heart, mind or soul: Help St. Ann’s heal others

TERRE HAUTE — Are you feeling overwhelmed by all that is out of balance? The fighting and fear-mongering? The unhappiness and escapism? The incurable greed and unconscious waste? The depth of need and patchy shallows of giving?

Let me suggest an antidote: Figure out something you can give to St. Ann’s medical or dental clinics, call them, then take your donation to the former parochial school building at 1436 Locust St. and hand it over yourself.

I suggest this because I was reminded again last week of St. Ann’s power to heal its volunteers and donors as well as its medical and dental patients. You’ve got to work hard to walk out of there with a heavy heart or a cynical mind, without a renewed sense of hope and possibility.

Morose but in a hurry, I’d meant to do only a fly-by. Out-of-town friends had wondered aloud what to do with boxes of prescription meds and soothing lotions and creams left behind by relatives who had died. I said I’d take them to St. Ann’s. The people who work and volunteer there make use of anything, and if they can’t, they know who will.

Donated medicines that are still in date are godsends, but even if the meds have expired, the clinics will properly dispose of them instead of flushing them into the environment via sewer or landfill. And, yes, they take empty pill bottles.

My fly-by turned into an uplifting layover. Just inside the door, I ran into Ted Brentlinger, a fellow parishioner at St. Ann Church next door, and one of about 110 volunteers who keep the medical clinic open and running. He was on his usual Thursday duty, assisting and counseling patients who need special help with diabetes. A retired teacher, Ted helped me carry the boxes from my car to the jammed clinic pharmacy, where volunteers and pharmacy students from Butler University identify, count and sort all donated items, including bandages and over-the-counter remedies as such as Maalox.

One volunteer spends a half-day each week just contacting the 45 pharmaceutical companies that donate unused products to the clinics. All 45 have different application forms and processes for receiving the gifts.

Whatever the clinics get, they still need more — of everything. Except maybe hanging file folders, according to Sister of Providence Lawrence Ann Liston, the medical clinic’s director: “No, I don’t need those right now,” she said late last week.

But wheelchairs? Bedside commodes? Physical therapy balls and other equipment? Prescription glasses or drugstore readers? Grant money for a full-time nurse practitioner? Bottles of 1 mg. folic acid or 0.4 mg. nitroglycerine? Sanitary napkins? New toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

And as I mentioned, the clinics’ staffs will make more out of donated items or an hour of time than most of us can possibly imagine doing with 50 times the amount. Every day, on the second and third floor of the renovated, old brick schoolhouse, it’s loaves-and-fishes time. Give them a handful of items or 1/84th of your week, and they will heal the multitudes.

So it has been since September 1997, when the medical clinic was founded, and January 2005, when the dental clinic was born.

Sister of Providence Connie Kramer, the director of the dental services, said 10 volunteer dentists gave time for 913 extended office visits in 2009. More than 2,500 teeth that were causing acute pain or infection were pulled. That is with only one day of operation — Fridays — per week.

Based on current rates for dental services in the Wabash Valley, Kramer estimates about $2.5 million has been donated to the dental clinic in services and medicines since 2005. More than 3,000 people with no health insurance have been treated.

This month, the 50,000th patient visit is expected at the medical clinic. In the clinic’s 12-plus years, medical services have gone to five days a week from two. March saw an all-time high in patient visits: 1,040. Just a couple of years ago, the average was about 350 per month.

“As I see it, that’s a thousand visits that didn’t end up in the hospitals’ emergency rooms,” said Liston, who, like Kramer, can calculate the exchange value of anything, from a medical assistance volunteer’s time to a pickup truck full of donated packages of adult diapers.

Looking around the bright, spacious waiting room of the medical clinic, I realized how much it resembled any big-practice doctors’ facility. Most patients looked as though they belong in a regular medical center; they were clean and neat, quiet, reading or sitting with that low-grade anxious mien many of us take with us into a physician’s office.

But St. Ann’s patients can’t get help from regular practices. They don’t have private insurance and many make just enough from their jobs to be disqualified for public assistance. More and more of them come in every week — needing help with abscessed teeth, skin cancers, stomach ulcers, glaucoma, paralyzing depression, arrhythmic hearts, smoking addictions, Pap smears or copies of their medical records.

The terrific thing, though, as exponentially as the need has increased, so has the clinics’ circle of friends. Corporate entities, clubs and foundations keep St. Ann’s in mind when it’s time to hand out grant money to buy computers or fund half of a salary for an administrative assistant. Nothing Rockefeller size, mind you — the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment did that when it rehabbed the building — but a few thousand here, a few hundred there keeps the loaves and fishes rolling.

Take Ron Vencel of JR Pharmacy. He gave a computer, software and pharmacy shelves to create the St. Ann pharmacy. Then, there’s the Wabash Valley Motorcycle Club. Every year its members conduct a big fundraiser for St. Ann’s.

“Our optometrist said, ‘What can you give me to work with?’” Liston recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll give you whatever the bikers give me.’” Last year, the bikers gave her $10,012.

The dental clinic, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, is sponsored by St. Ann parish. The phone number for information or appointments is (812) 232-6832. The medical clinic is under the auspices of the Providence Self-sufficiency Ministries. It operates Monday through Friday, with open clinic from 1 to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and varying hours and days for special services. To learn those or for other information, call (812) 232-7447.

If you have no meds or other items to donate nor time to give, a check is always welcome. You’ll be happier if you take it over, yourself, instead of just dropping it in a mailbox. Street parking is plentiful.

By the way, if you have any of those little plastic bags your newspaper comes in, take those with you. The dental clinic can use them.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or

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