Our chiropractic assistant, Bridget, greeted an arriving patient at the Emmanuel Church in downtown Boston.
Upon completion of the clinic treatment, Michael started to leave. Halfway down the hallway, he turned to us and said, "Thank you for the great treatment. Most of all, Bridget, I appreciated that you remembered my name. When you are homeless, people walk right by you. People don't acknowledge you and you don't have a name. It felt good to have you call me by my name."
There are many rewarding moments when treating people who cannot afford or have access to chiropractic care. The idea for starting a free clinic for the poor may sound like a goal that would be rewarding. We've certainly found that to be the case. Let's talk about the process and steps that have occurred in the initiation and development of the Boston Benevolent Chiropractic Clinic (BBCC), and how you can follow our road map to do the same.
The idea of the BBCC grew from an initial meeting involving a group of interested doctors in the spring of 1995. Then an invitation to attend another meeting was sent to all licensed chiropractors in the Greater Boston area. A group of 30 doctors attended. A brainstorming session occurred, which allowed for an open discussion as to the mission, processing of patients, training, procedures and scheduling of the volunteer doctors to get everyone on the same page.
Here is a checklist of issues we considered (and you can consider) in the design and oversight of a free clinic:
Define your mission: The BBCC mission statement is: Dedicated to providing chiropractic care to those in need within the Greater Boston community.
Creating and maintaining a team of doctors: After the initial mailing and subsequent meeting, a team of volunteers doctors was established. Over the years, doctors have come on board and others have stopped volunteering as their schedules allow. Having occasional gatherings and expressing gratitude to the doctors has been a positive ingredient to keeping them connected. The serving spirit is the No. 1 reason the doctors keep on coming.
Malpractice insurance: Each DC has their own malpractice insurance, sufficient to give every doctor coverage in sharing responsibility for patient care.
New-patient forms and processing: An agreed-upon set of entry forms and treatment notes was established.
Doctor scheduling: A monthly schedule was created in which each doctor was assigned to a 1-2 hour slot. The BBCC initially started with one clinic site and was open three days per week. Over the past 19 years, the BBCC has evolved into three clinic sites [one of which is the Emmanuel Church] and four shifts per week. A free clinic could start with one doctor and be developed from there. Regular communication of the schedule is important, regardless of how many volunteer doctors are part of the team.
CA coverage: The BBCC has always had a paid assistant on duty. There are many benefits: connection to the patients, helping with the schedule, patient flow and safety concerns. This is not a mandatory requirement, however.
Financing the clinic: We send out an annual newsletter, which accomplishes two tasks. First, the newsletter tells the clinic's yearly story and history. Many doctors have joined the BBCC staff upon hearing about its good works. The other benefit is an appeal for financial support. Many doctors are very willing to support this type of effort. The BBCC has collected an average of $5,000-$6,000 each year in donations. These funds have helped pay for various expenses including the CA, supplies and rent.
Fund-raising: As mentioned, the annual newsletter has been a vehicle to help keep the word out and request financial support. A number of clinics also have held Patient Appreciation Days, which involved the doctor offering a morning to give free treatments to their own personal patients. An optional (suggested) donation of $15-$25 was requested. Many people are very supportive of donating something to help others receive chiropractic care.
Supplies and equipment: We had everything donated (and then some). Doctors and supply companies donated tables, X-ray machines (which we didn't use for long), desks, pamphlets, etc. Ask and you will receive!
Website: We have had a Web presence for the past seven years. The primary purpose is to post the monthly doctor schedule, profile the doctors, and share the mission and testimonials of other patients. For the most part, our clinics are drop-in (very few appointments are scheduled). Patients sign in and wait their turn, which works surprisingly well.
Partnership and coordination with other service organizations and health facilities: We have lectured at many of the shelters, clinics and health care sites in Boston at one time or another. The other doctors, nurses and providers have been very receptive and supportive of working together. A local hospital provides X-rays for patients who need them. The BBCC has been a very positive statement to the Boston community, and other similar-minded providers have connected very easily to our mission (as it is similar to their own).
Funding a facility: The cost of renting a facility has run from zero (total donation) to a few hundred dollars per month. The BBCC has been a very supported and embraced effort. There are many possible sites to consider when developing a free clinic. Right now, our three sites are in a community center, shelter and church.
Please consider becoming a doctor who creates an opportunity for the needy, homeless and hopeless in your community. I have a vision for each major city in the United States to have a clinic like the Boston Benevolent Chiropractic Clinic someday. Please contact me with any questions or good news about starting the process of opening a clinic in your part of the country.
Dr. Ken Lowey, a 1981 graduate of Logan College of Chiropractic, is the founder and director of the Boston Benevolent Chiropractic Clinic. He practices at Newton Center Chiropractic in Newton, Mass. Contact him with questions or additional information at or 617-332-9080.