Friday, September 8, 2023
Araceli M. Cantero - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | For over 30 years, St. John Bosco Clinic has provided medical services to more than 35,000 uninsured people in Miami-Dade County who lack access to primary health care. That amounts to some 1,416 people and more than 100,000 visits per year.
As it marks a milestone anniversary, plans are in the works to offer more, including mental health services and outreach clinics in other parts of Miami-Dade County.
The clinic held a series of events beginning in June 2022 that raised over $100,000 and culminated with its official 30th anniversary celebration, April 21, 2023, on the grounds of its current location at Corpus Christi Church in Miami. Corporate donors, community leaders and philanthropists enjoyed an evening of presentations, music, food and conversation.
The clinic began its work July 1, 1992, launched with financial support from the Cuban Association of the Order of Malta and its sponsors, the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine and Mercy Hospital, as well as grants and philanthropic donations.
At that time, it was located on the grounds of St. John Bosco Church in Little Havana, hence its name. Open only for a few hours one day a week, its 800-square-foot space housed a waiting room and an office. The late radio and TV announcer, Manolo Reyes, served as the clinic’s first administrator, and Dr. Pedro José Greer, known as Miami’s "doctor to the homeless," was its first medical director.
In 2003, the clinic diversified and began offering legal and financial advice in a small building nearby. The population served was mostly Cuban. Order of Malta lawyers, accountants and doctors donated their services to the program, including José J. Centurion, cardiologist at Mercy Hospital.
Sister Elizabeth Worley, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph who then served as president of the Board of Mercy Hospital, called it "a perfect partnership in every way." She now serves as the Miami archdiocese’s chancellor for administration.
The Order of Malta contributed over $120,000 in cash and in-kind donations to remodel the legal services space. Everything was going well until the small building the clinic occupied was condemned and could no longer be used.
But Divine Providence came to its rescue, according to Father José Luis Menéndez, pastor of Corpus Christi, whose community had always wanted to have a service center on parish grounds.
The conversation began with the late Sister Edith Gonzalez, a Sister of St. Joseph of St. Augustine who then served as vice president of Mission Integration at Mercy Hospital and on the board of directors of her community's SSJ Health Foundation. And the dream became a reality, in large part, thanks to Father Menéndez’s good relations with the family of renowned singer Julio Iglesias. Carlos Iglesias, the singer’s brother, made a large donation and dedicated the building to his mother, Rosario de la Cueva de Iglesias.
“One thing is to dream of a service center and quite another to be able to do it. It is very complicated,” Father Menéndez recalled. "But God, who has everything under his infinite providence, allowed us to have a building ready when the clinic in San Juan Bosco Parish lost its own."
MOVE TO CORPUS CHRISTI
In 2007, the clinic moved to its current location behind Corpus Christi Church, at 730 N.W. 34 St. It’s a 2,838-square-foot building with four patient exam rooms, offices, and a spacious waiting room where a painting of St. John Bosco graces one wall. It was a gift painted by Ernesto Molina, in gratitude to the clinic that saved his life. Also displayed are a painting of Rosario de la Cueva de Iglesias and a photograph of Sister Edith.
In 2011, when Mercy Hospital was sold to HCA (the Hospital Corporation of America), the Sisters of St. Joseph continued their support of the clinic through their SSJ Health Foundation. The Archdiocese of Miami took over sponsorship of both the clinic and the foundation in October 2021, with Catholic Charities overseeing both.
In December of that same year, when Berta Cabrera retired after 10 years as director of both the clinic and the SSJ Health Foundation, her job was split in two: an executive director for each entity. Luz Gallardo, who had supervised and managed the work of the clinic for nine years, became its executive director in charge of administration and planning. Anthony Pinto became executive director of the foundation, responsible for development and fundraising.
In contrast to a few hours one day a week when it was founded, St. John Bosco Clinic now offers services five-days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It counts on 28 volunteer doctors, 19 other providers, nurses, a dentist, acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and some 20 volunteers who answer the phones and help patients.
Among those on the clinic’s staff are Dr. Rheinchard Reyes, the clinic’s medical director and a Catholic who feels it is important to give back to his community.
Also on staff is Kenmar Smith, a registered nurse practitioner who grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas. Son of a Filipino mother and married to a Cuban, he said he has a passion for empowering the underserved through health education. His approach is holistic. He talks to patients about physical and mental health, food, nutrition and spirituality.
“Here I have the opportunity to do that,” he said. "This clinic is a welcoming, nourishing place, a wellness center."
Prospective patients must fill out a form, prove that they qualify and make an appointment. This process prevents big lines of people from forming at the clinic, where there is always an atmosphere of silence and work. Patients now come from many areas of the county, not just Little Havana.
Those who qualify receive a diagnosis and follow-up for their condition. If needed, they are referred to other providers and specialists who offer their services at no cost. Most of the services take place outside the clinic because, as Gallardo explained, "we do not see ourselves as doing everything on our premises."
But the clinic does offer workshops and educational programs, such as CPR with the DOCS program of the University of Miami or a Cardiology Night with Dr. Centurion, in collaboration with other medical entities. A new partnership has also begun with Albizu University and their Goodman Psychological Services Center to provide mental health services for patients.
Gallardo dreams of adding more services such as ophthalmology and "specialties in every imaginable treatment for our patients," as well as having a social worker and counselor.
At the 30th anniversary event, Sister Elizabeth, along with Pinto and Jorge Uribe, board chair of the SSJ foundation, presented the SSJ Lifetime Achievement Award to Cabrera. Father Menéndez welcomed the participants, including Miami-Dade County District 13 Commissioner René García, a longtime supporter of the clinic’s work. Clinic collaborators and staff spoke about their work and shared their dreams for the future.
Pinto, whose task is to obtain private donations and grants, said his dream is to raise enough funds so that the clinic's annual budget can be covered with only interest from its endowment. The clinic now relies on funding from the SSJ Health Foundation as well as grants from corporations, The Miami Foundation and the United Way.
In a subsequent interview, Pinto said the clinic currently has an annual budget of roughly $600,000. Through the Florida Senate, particularly the efforts of Sen. Ileana García, “we have a $500,000 state appropriation through the Florida Department of Health.”
Pinto added that the SSJ Health Foundation recently received “a very generous gift from the Three C's Foundation which enabled us to launch the St. John Bosco Clinic Outreach clinics.”
That effort began in September in Homestead and continued in March 2023 in Little Haiti. Dates to open in Hialeah and other Miami-Dade neighborhoods are now being finalized.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have given some donations and remain on the boards of both the clinic and foundation, Sister Elizabeth said. After 30 years of service to the community, her dream is to “continue to serve those most in need. The numbers are growing,” she pointed out.
Gallardo, who came from Colombia when at age 10, said she identifies with the patients. “I am one of them. I love the job and being here.”
FIND OUT MORE
- St. John Bosco Clinic will host its annual Blues and Jazz Festival, remembering George Coba, to raise funds for Malta Medical Missions and the clinic. The festival will take place Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. at The Tank Brewing Co., 5100 N.W. 72 Ave., A-1, Miami, and will feature “Rachelle Coba and the People You Know.” For tickets, go to: https://bit.ly/3OR3vax.
- To volunteer at the clinic, e-mail [email protected]
- For appointments, call 305-635-1335.