Volunteer-led FernCare clinic offers free health services

If Ann Heler seems giddy about the work she's doing at a free health clinic in Ferndale, it's because she is. 

"The medical director, the executive director, all of the pharmacists, everyone. They're all volunteers. Yes, every single one and wait 'till you hear this, we have never closed because we did not have enough volunteers," she said.

The FernCare Free Clinic on Nine Mile in Ferndale has three full time employees but otherwise the 10-year-old clinic is run by volunteers.  

FOX 2: "What happens in these rooms that is so magical to you?"

"First of all, it's care for people who can't get care," she said. "They don't have enough money to get care anywhere else so what are they going to do? They call, they make an appointment and from there on, it's a typical clinic."

It's a typical clinic with prescriptions, screenings and anything else a patient needs. There are 50 free clinics like this in the state of Michigan and 16 of them are in metro Detroit. 

The need is real. Ann is seeing an increase in the number of small employers that aren't covering health insurance for families, causing a real problem. 

"Sometimes you can just imagine having had health insurance and then one day they get a letter that says in a month your wife, your family won't be covered. Can you imagine?" she said.

What's unimaginable becomes unbearable when sickness strikes. The clinic is only open six days a month and the hours are dependent on the volunteers who are scheduled. 

FOX 2: "You know there's a lot of volunteers but where does the funding come from?"

"Only two places. Individuals and that means writing a check, or through our fundraisers, or through grants. That's it. We don't have that money, we close," she said.

In one year they get well over 4,000 phone calls or visits from people who have questions about care but can't afford a doctor. Close to 1,000 patient visits have been logged in 2018 alone. They walk out of here with a prescription for hope. 

"The first thing they say is wow this place is great, you have such great employees here," said Pamalar Burnette, the clinic manager. "I know we tell them we're not employees we are all volunteers for the most part."

If you'd like more information on FernCare, visit www.ferncare.org