The Tale of Two Clinics

Reflections in the December issue of the American Journal of Nursing had an essay by Mark Darby RN, ARNP: The Way of Johnson Tower. Johnson Tower, a public housing building, sounded very much like the Senior Clinic I worked in and wrote about in my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers. Seems that the only difference between the residents of the buildings was that Mark’s building housed adults, mine was limited to residents over 60. Otherwise, both sets of folks who sought care from either of us  nurse practitioners were mostly marginalized, underserviced, and poor—and gutsy.

Mark didn’t identify the location of his public housing building but I can surmise that it was in an unsafe part of town, on the first floor and, like my clinic, had been a converted one-bedroom apartment. He says the clinic has . . . “one exam room” and is “below the building laundry. If more than four people use the washing machine, water will drip into the centrifuge.”

Mark describes four of his patients, each with their own challenges but each reaching out to help others. Getting to know patients as intimately as Mark does is facilitated by caring for the patients on their own turf. Mark and I get to know first-hand what challenges our patients face and we know the strengths they gather up to face them.

I bet Mark’s clinic, like the Senior Clinic, promoted low tech/high touch. Here is a copy of the brochure from the Senior Clinic that a friend who had worked with me sent recently. He had been sorting through “memorabilia” from over 30 years ago!

 

Senior Clinic Brochure
Circa 1987

 

A murder due to a drug deal gone bad occurred just outside Mark’s clinic. Those who planned my Senior Clinic decided to place the clinic on the tenth floor to avoid any drug seekers trashing our clinic looking for narcotics. Neither clinic would attract patients with medical insurance who had a choice of health care facilities.

I especially liked Mark’s answer when asked how he could work in such a setting. He said, “One thing I learned in NP school is that I am a nurse first and an advanced practitioner second. Nurses are supposed to look at the whole person—mind, body, and spirit—as well as the environment. I have found that the residents of Johnson Tower teach me more about being a nurse and a human being than you would imagine.” Amen I say to that.

I’m not exactly sure when my clinic closed. When I went back to Chicago in 2007 the building was no longer a public housing building but was run by the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation. It looked well cared for. I called their office soon after that visit and was told there was no longer a clinic there.

Sad.

 

Back to where it started: Chicago

I flew into cold, snowy Chicago last week to discuss my book at the main facility of Erie Family Health Centers. This felt like a dream as I stood behind the lectern gazing at the audience that, believe it or not, included a few familiar faces from some thirty years ago. I had been invited to read from my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers.I was discussing EFHC’s humble beginnings to this group of employees seated in the conference room on the third floor of an impressively designed modern building.

The main clinic that I remember was housed in a community center. Children’s laughter in the after-school program and the sound of the ball dribbling on an indoor basketball court easily penetrated the partitioned walls of the exam rooms. The dedicated staff experienced delayed pay days when revenue came up short. The clinic where I worked, a short walk from the main center, had mismatched chairs in the waiting area, second hand medical equipment, and roaches in the cabinets. In spite of the physical shortcomings, EFHC cared about the patients, the community, and its staff.

EFHC not only survived its humble roots but thrived and expanded. The non-profit organization now has 14 health centers, and more Advanced Practice Nurses (nurse practitioners and midwives) than doctors and is recognized as providing the highest quality of care by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The Chicago Tribune named EFHC as one of the top workplaces in 2018.

I am honored to be part of EFHC’s history.

 

Retired Nurse Practitioner & Author Marianna Crane presents her memoir,
Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic
On February 20, Marianna Crane, retired Erie nurse and author, met with our nursing staff to discuss her memoir, “Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic,” which movingly recounts her experiences as a nurse caring for the underserved elderly at Erie in the 1980’s.
We had a full room, a great discussion about the nursing profession, and over $300 were raised for Erie’s patients through the sale of her book!
Please join us in continuing to support Crane’s work! Keep up with her on her blog and website, Nursing Stories.
Buy the Book!
Proceeds from the sale of Crane’s memoir go towards providing quality care for Erie’s patients.
Crane with Dawn Sanks, Director of Health Center Operations at Erie West Town
Crane with Dr. Lee Francis, President and CEO
A full room!
Erie Family Health Center | 312.666.3494 (city) | 847.666.3494 (suburbs) | www.eriefamilyhealth.org

The Building as Character

 

Countdown to Publication Date: One Week

I have three readings scheduled at local books stores in the next few weeks. I will send out an e-vite tomorrow. It’s both a stressful and exciting time. I have to remind myself to “have fun.”

The latest review of my book: Chicago Writers Association, Windy City Reviews:

Stories From The Tenth Floor Clinic. Marianna Crane. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, November 6, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 212 pages. 

Reviewed by Deb Lecos. 

Marianna Crane has written an important memoir detailing the complex needs of an aging population and how a humane society should shift its thinking about what is “conscious-care” when people reach a certain level of fragility. The reader journeys along with Marianna while her beliefs change as a nurse practitioner, running a senior clinic within a Chicago-based, subsidized-housing building. 

As a nurse practitioner specializing in gerontology at the Veteran’s Administration, Marianna is governed by strict parameters. When a job change takes her to a senior clinic within a CHA building, she faces an environment quite different from where she trained, and is forced to adapt so she can help those under her care. Many of her patients are alone, disconnected from family, and easy prey for those intent on stealing their meager incomes. Continuing to live independently can be difficult when a patient’s health moves swiftly downhill and there are no friends or relatives to assist in decision-making. Residents of the building have come to rely on the clinic and its support staff to ensure they have social interaction, food in the refrigerator, and a fan when the heat becomes dangerously high. 

After work, Marianna’s home life is fraught with similar issues, as a complicated relationship with her mother has reached an unsustainable level of dysfunction. Her mother has become increasingly combative, and her disinclination to engage therapeutically requires Marianna to devise a solution that is respectful to her husband and two teenage children, while ensuring her mother has a safe place to land. Utilizing the new approach that she’s been reluctantly taking with her patients affords Marianna necessary skills to handle this emotionally-challenging situation. 

With chapters unfolding in story form, the reader glimpses the lives of vulnerable people. We learn what happens when the frail are shuttled into the corners of society without enough support. Filling that gap in care are Mattie and Mary, who work under the direction of Ms. Crane and are devoted to building humane over-sight relationships with the residents. Mattie and Mary compel Marianna to redefine her role in the clinic community by introducing her to Angelika, a woman choosing to die in her apartment instead of going to a hospital. Angelika has refused a diagnosis of the ailment ending her life. After losing the battle of Angelika’s resistance to leave her home, Marianna allows herself to adjust to the 

needs of those she is intent on helping. She comes to understand that sometimes care means respecting the wishes of a dying woman and not requiring her to take a final breath in the hospital, even if doing so breaks a dozen rules in the process. 

The stories Ms. Crane starkly and, at times, graphically illustrates occurred in the 1980’s. Similar events are continuing to unfold today in subsidized housing and homes all across the country. Difficulties the aging and poor experience in navigating ill-health and death within a system built for the well-off and healthy have worsened in the time since the author encountered these experiences. The VA, health clinics, and senior care programs are still underfunded and mismanaged, exacerbating the condition of buildings and staffing needs. 

There are no concrete solutions to the problems we face in determining how to care for a growing low-income, aging population. It is my fervent wish as a reader of this memoir that we do so with an ability to change our thinking, much as Marianna Crane convinced herself to do. Convenient, easily-enacted answers to the complex struggles of the elderly, many of whom are not connected to functional families, will not be successful. As Marianna came to her own epiphanies on how to be of assistance, so must our national community. This is a relational issue and it deserves a relationally-creative response, one that is centered on humane and caring treatment for all ill, infirmed, and end-stage-aged people. 

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