Catholic Clinic celebrates 90 years serving low income and uninsured Houstonians

April 10, 2012

HOUSTON — When Frank Tate suffered a spell of gout a couple of years back, he knew he needed to see a doctor. Only trouble was he had neither a regular doctor nor health insurance. Fortunately, Tate, an Olympic boxing gold medalist and now a boxing and sports trainer, had a client who told him about a gem of a clinic for the uninsured.

Tate took himself off to the San Jose Clinic, at 2615 Fannin Street, and was treated for his gout and has been going back for medical and dental visits ever since. The gold medalist in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics had nothing but praise for the top-notch and timely services he received.
"It's a lovely place for people to come who can't afford insurance," he said. "Just because you can't afford insurance, you shouldn't be embarrassed. I'm an Olympic gold medalist, but if I need to see a doctor I'll go there. I'm fine with that."

This year marks the 90th anniversary that the clinic has been serving people like Tate, thanks to a $50 initial donation from the Charity Guild of Catholic Women and the vision of Monsignor George Walsh, who in 1922 set out to combat the infant mortality rate in his downtown parish.
In celebration, the guild, an organization that has contributed greatly to the growth and success of San Jose, will be honored at the clinic's upcoming annual fundraiser. The "Art with Heart" dinner and auction, featuring artwork in various media, fashion and culinary arts, is on May 5. 

"It's a wonderful honor to be recognized as a partner for these healthcare services," Guild President Peggy Ascherl said. "We are delighted to continue the association."

Today's 530-member guild gives $50,000 a year to the clinic, which helps greatly towards the clinic's $3.2 million annual operating expenses, the clinic's Executive Director Paule Anne Lewis said.

Known as the Mexican Mission Clinic when it was started to treat needy infants in a small frame house on Franklin Street, San Jose Clinic has evolved into a leading provider of quality health care for more than 4,000 low income and uninsured patients. Over the years, the clinic has expanded its services, eventually moving in 1953 to larger premises on 301 Hamilton Street, and again in 2010 to a new facility at the Fannin location. 

Spread across 33,000 square feet on three floors, the clinic offers primary and specialty health care and dentistry, encompassing almost 20 specialties, from cardiology and dermatology to pediatrics and gynecology, as well as a pharmacy and laboratory.

This past calendar year was another year of growth and expansion, with more academic affiliations and volunteers coming on board and more patients to serve. To keep up with the growth, the clinic recently added radiology services, and there are plans to add neurology services. 
"We want this clinic to be a health home, where patients can come to get everything done," Lewis said.

Not included in the annual operating expenses are the in-kind contributions, totaling almost $4.1 million, including the hours put in by volunteer doctors and dentists, who either lend their services individually or through collaborations with area hospitals. 

Dr. Jose Lopez, a dentist and oral maxillofacial surgeon in private practice, is one such volunteer and coincidentally was a patient as a young child.
"There is always a segment of society that will always need some kind of help," Lopez said. "It's no different now than it was back when my family was going. Now, I am in a position where I am able help."

The clinic has a special place in the hearts of many former patients, who like Lopez, had no other option for medical care. Irma Galvan, a successful restaurateur, remembers going as a child for vaccinations and doctor's visits to what was a mainstay of the East End community when it was housed in the old Hamilton Street building. 

"It helped the whole neighborhood," said Galvan, who runs the legendary downtown Irma's and Irma's Southwest Grill. "That was our hospital, our clinic." 

Abel Soto, a financial analyst with ExxonMobil, said his parents couldn't afford to take him and his five siblings anywhere else. 
"We got good treatment from there — immunizations and any other medical issues," Soto said. "I'm glad they're still around to offer those services."
And in all likelihood, the clinic will be around to celebrate the next 90 years.