Sister Margo Young helps establish new free clinic in San Bernardino

lestonnac-free-clinicThe tan one-story office building sits just across the street from St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, Calif., and part of it was empty. When Sr. Margo Young learned of the unused space she knew it was time to act.

“I wanted it,” she said.

A physician at St. Bernardine, Sister Margo some years ago recognized the need for a free clinic in San Bernardino, one of the poorest cities for its population in the country. The building, already owned by the hospital, was perfect. After some negotiation, St. Bernardine agreed to provide the space and utilities rent-free and Sister Margo helped secure funding for renovations, including financial support from the Sisters of the Precious Blood. The facility opened last September under the management of Lestonnac Free Clinic as one of seven satellite locations in the region. Health care professionals, including medical students, volunteer their time to staff the clinic. Sister Margo spends four hours there each Monday. The clinic offers basic medical and dental services.

“Part of the reason I like it is that you can spend time with patients,” Sister Margo said. “Besides providing health services for persons without access, it balances my soul to volunteer at the clinic. I have missed caring for patients.”

Helping to establish the clinic is a natural extension of Sister Margo’s work as director of community health for St. Bernardine Medical Center and nearby Community Hospital of San Bernardino. Both hospitals are operated by Dignity Health, the largest hospital provider in California.

In her current role, Sister Margo is responsible for several outreach centers and programs aimed at improving residents’ health and quality of life. The Health Education Center at Community Hospital provides free health and childbirth education classes. Classes include nutrition, diabetes management, heart health and stress management. The Baby and Family Center at St. Bernardine focuses on maternal childbirth and offers support groups. There is also a Family Focus Center located near San Bernardino High and Middle schools that provides after school and summer programs for at-risk youth.

“It’s really just a safe place for a lot of kids who don’t have any place to go,” Sister Margo said of the Family Focus Center, which is part of St. Bernardine’s community outreach. “A lot of it is to support them so they graduate, and be a friend.”

Sister Margo also oversees hospital community health navigators who follow-up with uninsured patients who come into the hospitals’ emergency departments but aren’t admitted. Acting as a liaison between the hospitals and the community, the navigators connect patients with appropriate resources. Part of that requires educating people on how to use the health care system in order to maximize the available resources. In the end, it helps the hospitals’ bottom line while improving people’s lives.

“It’s about getting people what they need in order to be healthy,” Sister Margo said. “It’s about their quality of life.”

A physician since 1990, Sister Margo has worked at Dignity Health since 2009. She previously spent 13 years in Guatemala as a medical missionary. Sister Margo was raised in Manteca, Calif., graduated from San Luis Rey Academy and entered the Congregation. Her first six years of ministry were spent teaching in elementary schools in Cincinnati and Denver. She was director of pastoral care at the Maria-Joseph Center and also a hospital chaplain before attending medical school.

Story by Dave Eck

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