Beyond the Card: Hope Through Community Health

Dr. Alisa Smith

| 4 min read

Clinical nurse director and a certified family nurse...

For over 65 years, Detroit’s St. Frances Cabrini Clinic has provided free health care to low-income, vulnerable patients in Michigan’s largest city. As the oldest free clinic in the U.S., those years have taught us a lot about what it means to be healthy, the value of treatment at a community level and the importance of ongoing wellness education.
The Cabrini Clinic
The seed of Cabrini Clinic was planted more than 100 years before it was officially founded in 1950. Our story actually dates back to 1834, when the newly-opened Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church was used as a hospital during the cholera epidemic in Detroit. The church effectively became the first hospital in Michigan – treating everyone in the community without regard to their ability to pay. In 1950, Most Holy Trinity’s pastor, Father Clement Kern, started the St. Frances Cabrini Clinic to continue the church’s longstanding tradition of caring for those in need. Today, our clinic remains true to this tradition. We have a team of volunteer physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and other health professionals who are committed to providing health care to all residents who come to us for help.
Our services are wide-ranging. We provide primary care for chronic diseases, like hypertension and diabetes. We provide flu shots and STD testing, including HIV testing. We have certified psychiatrists and psychologists who provide mental health services. We’ve also incorporated preventive health initiatives, like a walking program, community garden and nutrition classes. If there’s a service we don’t offer on-site, like eye exams or dental services, we arrange for patients to receive the care they need at an external facility. We also work to connect our patients with resources within the community. We request vouchers for diagnostic tests and medical specialists, or help patients apply for prescription assistance programs. Social workers are available to help patients apply for state insurance and overcome any social barriers to accessing health care. As most of our patients are uninsured or underinsured, we are primarily funded through donations and grants, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Strengthening the Safety Net grant program, of which we’ve been a recipient multiple times. These types of programs make it possible for us to assess – and meet – the evolving needs of our community. We treat everyone who walks into our clinic and don’t turn anyone away. We believe health care is a human right, and work hard to ensure a basic level of health coverage is available to all residents. We serve people in our own diverse neighborhood of Corktown, as well as those beyond the Wayne County borders. This sense of universal acceptance and compassionate treatment is what has helped us stay bonded to the community for so long.
A volunteer nurse treating patients.
As Cabrini’s clinical nurse director and a certified family nurse practitioner, I’ve seen a lot of positive outcomes happen at our clinic. One story that comes to mind is a local woman who continued coming to the clinic for diabetes treatment, but wasn’t getting any better. We started monitoring her more closely, and eventually sent a volunteer nurse visit her home. In the home visit, the nurse found out the patient was struggling to see due to severe cataracts. Due to the patient’s sight impairment, she wasn’t able to inject her insulin properly. Once we realized her eyesight was the true root of the issue, we were able to arrange a surgery to fix her cataracts. She’s now healthy, and credits our clinic with turning her life around. She even crochets scarves for our employees, volunteers and patients – her way of giving back to the Cabrini community. “My operation was done and my eye again saw the light,” the patient said in a thank you letter to Cabrini Clinic. “Institutions like Cabrini Clinic and people like those who give their support are those angels on earth that enable people like me to be benefited.” We’ve had dozens of patients come through our doors over the years with stories like the one above. But our volunteers feel they’re getting a better reward. Some have been with the clinic for over 20 years, and say they enjoy giving their time and services because they feel like they’re part of something “bigger,” something that has true meaning. And there’s no greater gift than that. To learn more about the Cabrini Clinic, visit For more information on Blue Cross’ Strengthening the Safety Net grants visit This post is part of a storytelling series we call, “Beyond the Card.” These stories will feature Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members, employees, and communities who are making meaningful differences throughout our state. We invite you to follow Beyond the Card stories here at and through the hashtag, #BeyondtheCard on our social channels. If you have a story you would like to share, please feel free to contact us at Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association