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Christ Clinic, Christ Kitchen turn around culture of poverty

With the number of uninsured and underinsured people growing, Christ Clinic’s expansion two years ago into a new 4,300-square-foot building allows it to serve more people.  The clinic is at 914 W. Carlisle beside Christ Kitchen at 2410 N. Monroe.

Started 20 years ago at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Central Spokane, the clinic has increased from 200 patient visits a month in its former space to 500 a month and a patient load of 4,000.

Four physicians founded it because they knew rising health care costs drove more people to use emergency rooms because they had no primary health care providers.

Christ Kitchen, which grew out of Christ Clinic in 1998, now provides jobs and job training for about 25 women. They package soups and mixes, run a cafe and cater meals. Jan Martinez started it when she was a volunteer psychotherapist at the clinic.

Kristine Ruggles
Kristine Ruggles is director of Christ Clinic
and Christ Kitchen.

Kristine Ruggles began as executive director of Christ Clinic and Christ Kitchen in June, bringing skills from a career in banking and finance in Seattle.  Having married late, she left her career to move in 1994 to a smaller city, Spokane, to raise their children.

Growing up Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, she wandered from church in her teens, returned in her late 20s and now attends Life Center.

In 2003, after earning a degree in organizational management at Whitworth University, Kristine decided to work in nonprofits.  She volunteered and then worked at the Red Cross, and then at Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery from 2005 until she came to Christ Clinic.

She knew about the clinic and kitchen when she attended First Presbyterian Church, where she met Jan.

Nine volunteer doctors rotate half-day shifts once a month or once a week. The clinic’s full-time nurse practitioner, Danielle Riggs, has been there 11 years, and physicians’ assistant, Larry Carpenter, retired from the military and began last March.  An office manager-receptionist and a billing specialist also work full time.

Practitioners form relationships with each patient.  The patients see the same person each time,” Kristine said.

The clinic has a lab for blood work, partners with the PAML lab for diagnostics, and works with the Medication Assistance Program to assist patients with their prescription medications.  It has six exam rooms and a procedure room for biopsies, casting and internal exams.

Christ Clinic also works with Health for All, a program that helps uninsured people and advocates for changes in the health care system.  These are changes Christ Clinic seeks to model. 

It can charge patients based on a sliding scale fee based on need.  When patients find jobs with benefits, the clinic celebrates and sends them on.

It is able to do business in that way because of the community’s generosity and the in-kind donations of volunteer doctors, nurses, student interns and a physical therapist. Funders also include Providence Health and Services and private foundations.  

“Because we’re a faith-based organization coming alongside people with Christ’s love,” she said, “we do not rely on government funding.”

A few years ago, they gained funding for a psychiatric nurse practitioner and added a volunteer counselor.  That nurse practitioner and the physicians’ assistant interface to heal the whole person, Kristine said.

We believe the spiritual, mental and physical interrelate.  We provide traditional medical care, and also pray for patients, unlike other primary care givers,” Kristine said.  “It’s hard to find this level of primary care that heals the body and heals the soul.  You can’t separate the two.”

Just inside the clinic door in the reception room, there is a shelf of Bibles in different languages—Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Spanish and more.

“Staff start the day with a prayer that we will be in service to the people who come,” she said.  “The practitioners also pray with patients if the patients want to pray.  Practitioners respect those who do not want to pray.”

In the kitchen, Jan holds a weekly Bible study for women living in poverty, bringing isolated women into community, helping them understand about God and Christ, and helping them become self-sufficient.

When Jan first offered a Bible study for women at the clinic no one came, so she decided they might come if they were paid to help create a product.  She started the “social entrepreneurship” program with packaging bean soup. Women came Thursday mornings for a Bible study and stayed to help with packaging.

“Previously anyone who came was paid, but as the ministry has grown, we have a limited number of spaces,” she said.

Recently they added four spaces, so 29 women now help Thursday mornings on a regular basis.  At busy times, up to 80 volunteers join them.  They now make gourmet dried food baskets, package various signature products, run the cafe, and do local catering and delivery. 

The staff of six includes a cook, office manager and catering manager. Jan is director as a volunteer ministry. 

“As the kitchen sells more products and does more catering, there will be more consistent long-term work,” Kristine said.  “This is more than short-term job training.”

The women who come consistently find stability.  One is working to bring her six children together after losing them because of meth.  She also works at Transitions and has recently remarried.

“Some move from living on the street and eating out of garbage bins to having a roof over their heads and money to meet living costs,” Kristine said.

The clinic not only keeps people alive and healthy, but also gives them hope.  The kitchen also dispenses hope.

“Hope is critical, especially when someone lacks fundamental resources, and the security of a home, food and community.  Few would feel comfortable going to a church, where many gather to find hope,” Kristine said.  “Here, women, even those who did not have loving homes, learn they are not alone and God loves them.”

“We hope people we serve know we all are fallible and may fall back, but we are part of community that comes alongside us no matter what,” she said.

As a teacher and mentor, Jan walks alongside these women to release them from isolation, guilt and self-blame.

“What happens here is about Jesus.  We think we have control, but we need to trust that God will prevail.  My hope is in Christ,” said Kristine, who has learned about culture of poverty from women at the kitchen.

“It’s amazing how poverty and abuse can become generational,” she said, believing that offering community and health care in nice facilities helps people believe they deserve better.

“It’s easy to judge someone experiencing domestic violence and it’s hard to imagine what it is to overcome insecurity and seek love to feel part of something,” Kristine said.

For information, call 325-0393 or email execdir@christclinic.org.