By Tanya Connor
Connections between the Catholic Church and St. Anne’s Free Medical Program in Shrewsbury are being strengthened, according to Father Eric K. Asante, diocesan director of African Ministry. As such, the health and spiritual needs of the community will continue to be served.
The African Ministry became the program’s sponsoring organization May 1 and created a board of trustees to oversee the program.
Dr. Harvey G. Clermont, founder of the program, was preparing to retire this year. He said that Southbridge physician Dr. John Howland, of St. John Paul II Parish, has taken his place as the new medical director. Dr. Clermont, of St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury, began the program in 1996 at St. Anne Parish’s Father Smith Center.
Anthony Adade, chairman of the new board, is associate vice president and chief information officer for Worcester State University, and a St. Paul Cathedral parishioner. He said that pending board approval, Lisa Izzo, of St. Patrick Parish in Whitinsville, will become volunteer executive director. She is a consultant at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she worked for years as Operations and Practice Manager with the Department of Psychiatry. She will be responsible for the general operations of the program.
Dr. Howland, who once ran a free medical program in Southbridge, said Father Asante asked him if he would be medical director of St. Anne’s program, and he agreed to take the position for two years. He said he has to review all charts and ensure patients are getting proper care.
The board will oversee him and the executive director to ensure accountability and stability, he said.
Board members said their role will include properly staffing the program, seeing that the volunteers have what they need to do their jobs, and soliciting donations.
Dr. Clermont said he plans to continue seeing patients with Dr. Howland and other healthcare professionals, aided by clerical staff, until next May. All volunteer their time Tuesday evenings.
“They’re allowing us to fulfill our mission at St. Anne’s,” Dr. Clermont said. The parish provides the space rent-free, he said. He said the independent program is not specifically Catholic. But upon founding it he guaranteed Father Edward J. Moran, then St. Anne’s pastor, that “we would keep to the Catholic principles.”
“It’s more of a Catholic program now than before,” because the African Ministry is sponsoring it, Father Asante said. Bishop McManus will dedicate the program at 6 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Father Smith Center, he said.
“We just wanted to highlight the medical need” of the underprivileged and immigrants the program serves, he said. He said the dedication is also to reinforce that the program conforms to Catholic teaching.
He would also like to have a priest there each week, and maybe other people, to attend to patients’ spiritual and psychological needs, he said. The priest could offer the sacrament of the sick and hear confessions. Deacons, religious and laity could listen to those who need to talk.
Father Asante commended Dr. Clermont, Dr. Howland and the others for giving their time and talent “to advance the healing power of God.”
Anyone can volunteer, but the program will adhere to Catholic teaching – “no referrals for abortion, no contraception” – he said, and expressed hope of connecting those who need it with natural family planning experts.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “It might take time. But at least we’ve started.”
Dr. Clermont, 75, said that when he was preparing to retire this year, he knew he would feel terrible if he had to close all the free medical programs he helped to start, especially St. Anne’s. (This May he retired from his private practice in Worcester, which he started after retiring as a surgeon with Fallon Clinic in 2000.)
In addition to that, he helped start free medical programs. Ones which closed for various reasons were those at St. Bernard Church in Worcester and in Millbury and Hudson, he said. He’s no longer involved with the one at Bethlehem Covenant Church in Worcester.
He said he’d tried unsuccessfully to get a sponsor for the St. Anne’s program, his oldest one, or the one at Akwaaba, a Ghanaian 7th Day Adventist Church in Worcester, which saw primarily African patients.
Through Father Asante, who is Ghanaian, he learned that the African Ministry was seeking to start a free medical program. He told Father Asante they could sponsor either of these. (Since then, the Ghanaian program temporarily closed, Dr. Clermont said.)
The African Ministry opted for St. Anne’s, thinking of it as affiliated with the Catholic Church, which took precedence over working with fellow Africans, said Nicholas Obeng, treasurer of the board of trustees and president of the Ghanaian community at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Worcester.
They also felt St. Anne’s was more inclusive and it made the most sense to support it, said Esther Boama-Nyarko, board secretary, African Ministry administrative assistant and a St. Joan of Arc parishioner.
“We cannot eliminate any of the cultures; whoever needs us should be able to come and feel comfortable there,” Dr. Clermont said.
He said about 60 volunteers serve an average of 70 uninsured and underinsured walk-in patients per week, for such needs as school physical exams, help with managing chronic conditions, mental health issues, and minor surgery. Volunteers include medical and nursing students, healthcare professionals and clerical workers.
Before the African Ministry took on sponsorship of the program, it was sponsored by C.H.A.N.G.E. (Children’s Healthcare And Nutritional Goals through Education), he said. He founded C.H.A.N.G.E. in 1984 and incorporated it as a non-profit in 1986 to facilitate his medical mission work in Latin America, but stopped taking doctors on trips there when he started St. Anne’s program, he said.
“I found that there was a huge need here,” he said. “I’ve been very happy at St. Anne’s.”
He still uses C.H.A.N.G.E. to donate medical supplies to his Latin American contacts, but the non-profit will cease to exist when he formally retires from St. Anne’s program next May, he said.
Melina Duchesneau, a St. Anne’s parishioner who has done clerical work for St. Anne’s Free Medical Program since it began, said she is responsible for the clerical workers there. She makes sure enough people are coming to help with set up, clean up, intake etc.
“It’s a very happy atmosphere,” she said. “We’re all volunteers so we like what we are doing. It’s a good feeling to be helping people.”
–Those seeking more information can contact the African Ministry office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-929-4329.