Archdiocese Local

After 35 years, Duchesne Clinic closes its doors

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blesses the Duchesne Clinic at the clinic’s closing ceremony on May 30. Assisting the archbishop are: (from left) David Clark; Father Peter Jaramillo, pastor of St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City, Kansas; and Father Anthony Saiki, master of ceremonies. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

by Jeanne Gorman
Special to The Leaven

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — With eyes filled with tears but hearts full of gratitude, a group of staff, volunteers and patients assembled on a bright May morning to celebrate and give thanks for the 35 years of service the Duchesne Clinic here provided the people of the urban core and the surrounding community.

The clinic, founded by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, provided not only free and low-cost health care, but also friendship, comfort, support and interpreting services, among other things.

The morning began with a Mass of thanksgiving celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and concelebrated by Father Peter Jaramillo, pastor of St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, where the clinic had operated since its beginning.

Women participate in Mass at St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, in thanksgiving for the Duchesne Clinic’s 35 years. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

In his welcome, the archbishop recognized the day was one of mixed feelings, but also one of thanksgiving for 35 years of providing health care to the community. He offered prayers for the staff, volunteers, benefactors and patients of Duchesne. He acknowledged the faith of the Sisters in starting the clinic. He recounted how when they were looking for a location to house their clinic, they toured the old St. Anthony School. There they found a homeless man who had died in the building. They were deeply moved and took that as a sign to begin their ministry there.

While he recognized the sadness over the closing, the archbishop prayed that the staff will be able to continue all the good they have done at Duchesne at their new places of employment. He thanked the Lord for the many ways God had blessed the ministry and told those gathered how much he appreciated the way the clinic workers respected and upheld the dignity of those patients they served.

After the Mass, the congregation, led by the archbishop and Father Peter, processed over to the clinic, where participants gathered in the parking lot for refreshments and to reminisce about their time at Duchesne.

From left, Milka Sabusic (St. Joseph-St. Benedict parishioner in Kansas City, Kansas), Liz Villalvasco (Duchesne patient coordinator), Beth Watkins (clinic operations manager) and Lulu Herrera (clinic manager) get emotional during the closing ceremony of the Duchesne Clinic. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

It was a reunion of sorts for the many who worked there. Sister Elena Mack, SCL, served as a volunteer interpreter there from 2016 to 2023, after she returned from service in Latin America. What began as interpreting for patients evolved into teaching English and providing spiritual direction, especially to teens. She found her time at Duchesne very rewarding.

Sister Barbra Aldrich is a member of the SCL Healthcare’s Leaven Ministries board, which advises Intermountain Healthcare that began operating the clinic a few years ago. She said that when Duchesne opened 35 years ago, there were no other such clinics in Kansas City, Kansas. However, today, many more similar facilities exist, which will be able to provide the health care needed for the Duchesne patients.

In its closing announcement, Intermountain echoed her words, stating it had been considering the move for many months.

It concluded that “[n]umerous similar clinics are operating in the Duchesne area that we feel can better meet the health care needs of the population we currently serve and provide them with access to the health care they need.”

Supporters of the Duchesne Clinic share a lighthearted moment during the closing ceremony of the Duchesne Clinic. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Among the past clinic managers in attendance was Sister Janet Cashman, SCL, who served from 1996-2001. During her tenure, the demographics in the area were starting to reflect a large influx of Hispanics. There were few medical services for them. Sister Janet is grateful for the acceptance of and the assistance the program received from the city of Kansas City, Kansas, during her years at the clinic. She is also thankful for all of the doctors who volunteered and for help from the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

Lulu Herrera, the current manger, expressed how difficult the closing is to staff and those served, totaling about 1300 patients. Some patients had been part of the clinic community since it began 35 years ago and many for more than 20 years. The clinic is attempting to reach them and assist them with finding new health care options.

Five-year volunteer Debbie Lieurance, RN, expressed the sentiments shared by many. She thoroughly enjoyed her time volunteering at Duchesne, as she often cared for second and third generations of patients.

She is heartbroken for the patients, many of whom do not speak English. She knows the staff took great care of them and will be missed by those they served.

Most of the staff have found employment with other health care programs in the area and expect to care for some of their former patients at their new workplaces. Duchesne closed on May 31.

As for the clinic building, Father Peter anticipates the parish will, in the coming months, discern future uses for the building, which will benefit the community in new ways.

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The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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