Looking at the nondescript, 32,000 square-foot facility in the 1700 block of Hopewell Street, Archbishop John C. Wester said the free-care medical clinic is much more than just a building.
It is, he told an assembly of about 35 people at the clinic’s open house Sunday, “a living tribute to the good … we do for one another.”
Wester was referring to the newly built Villa Thérèse Catholic Clinic, an expanded version of the smaller, nearly 85-year-old downtown clinic.
The new facility is expected to open around Nov. 1, said Victoria Otero, executive director of the clinic.
The new facility has three rooms for medical, two for dental and one for vision, as well as a room for triage services. The current downtown clinic has one medical and dental room, Otero said.
The clinic is now better situated to serve its clientele — those without health insurance, migrants and children and adults who need immediate care and cannot get a doctor appointment quickly, she said.
“A lot of our patients have trouble getting to a clinic,” she said, adding that many come on bus or on foot. The clinic, now closer to the center of town, provides regular services to those living in the Hopewell Street district, on Airport Road and along Agua Fria Road, she said.
The nonprofit relies on grants, foundation money and private donations to operate, she said.
Before the pandemic hit, the clinic served about 1,000 patients a year.
Last year, that number dropped to about 400, Otero said.
Such free medical clinics are becoming more important for those who cannot afford health insurance, according to the the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, which says about 2 million people rely on the roughly 1,400 free medical clinics nationwide.
The city’s support helped make the new facility a reality, said Emelda Martinez, chairwoman of the clinic’s campaign board. The Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority offered Villa Thérèse a 50-year lease on the land.
While the city helped jumpstart the project, Martinez said clinic leaders need to raise $1 million in a first payment on that lease. They’ve raised $300,000, she said.
Though the coronavirus pandemic has made fundraising a challenge, Martinez said people and medical professionals — including several who volunteer their services to the clinic — have been coming together to support the initiative.
One medical provider, she said, donated a hand-held X-ray machine.
“Do you know know how much that costs?” she asked — suggesting it’s a hefty price tag.
In 1937, Archbishop Rudolph Aloysius Gerken and the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati started the clinic on the property of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in downtown Santa Fe. At that time, it was known as the Catholic Clinic.
In 1952, Archbishop Edwin Vincent Byrne placed the clinic under the patronage of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Catholic Carmelite nun who lived and served in the late 1800s, and it was renamed Villa Thérèse Catholic Clinic.
Wester said Sunday that St. Thérèse, who died in 1897 of tuberculosis, strove to “find God in simple things.”
He called the clinic “a place to find help.”
Mary Ray Cate, a general practitioner who has been volunteering at the clinic for nearly 30 years, said Sunday the clinic is a safety net for those who “fall between the cracks, people who don’t have health insurance.”
She and Otero said one challenge is recruiting medical professionals to work at the clinic on a volunteer basis. After the pandemic plays out, it might be easier to attract more health care providers, Otero said. But for now, many retired doctors who would be ideal for the clinic might be among the most vulnerable for contracting the respiratory virus, she said.
Many people might not know the clinic exists, Otero said. She said the nonprofit will create an awareness campaign to inform the community about its services and draw volunteers.
The clinic, she said, will “allow more people to have access to health care” and help “build a healthy community.”