Fourth Ward Clinic & Medical Community: 1973 - 1976     by Cherie Binns RN BS MSCN        Written July 2011

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Genesis, Visitation, Calling, Pilgrimage, Musician, Clinic, Changes & Finalé

In August 1973, a friend of two years Rev. Joel MacCollam, heard the Lord tell him that he needed to take me to Houston to a weekend of Renewal at the Church of the Redeemer.  Bob Morris and George Moses were both pastors there and he had been a Seminary Classmate of both.   Since I had been part of an ever growing population of Spirit Baptized young professionals and college students in the Capital District area of New York State and had been a music minister for nearly two years for the Charismatic Emmanuel Community in Albany, he felt an introduction to the music and worship in Houston was needed.   Several months prior to this trip, the Fisherfolk traveling team, on the way to Coventry, stopped at his parish in Troy NY for a weekend of renewal which I had attended.   During the closing prayers of Saturday, I saw the only real “vision” I can ever remember having.   It was simply a picture of Christ surrounded by clouds and light descending into our world and people of all races and walks of life looking to him.

As Joel and I walked into Redeemer for the first time on that hot August afternoon, I was astounded to see my “vision” across the entire front wall of the sanctuary!  Part of me thought that this might be evidence of a calling to come to this place and share my talents but I had not yet experienced the worship, teaching or community of that place.   Friday night prayer and praise was glorious … an expansion of what I was experiencing in Albany for worship, teaching, prophecy, prayer and best of all, the music was partially new and totally refreshing and exciting.  I also had the joy (as a visiting musician) to be housed at the "Way Inn" during this trip.

While there, the bulk of Friday was spent with Dr. Bob Eckert at the Fourth Ward Clinic.  After a brief introduction, I was handed a stethoscope and lab coat and asked to accompany him as he saw patients in the storage area of an old Weingarten’s super market.  The waiting area was the old loading dock but the exam rooms were horrific!  They were cubicles in old refrigeration bays with insulation in the walls and ceilings that used to be food storage.  Each one was barely 6’x8’ with room enough for an exam table, a couple of chairs and a stand to hold medical supplies and instruments.  It was not unusual for a piece of cork-like insulation to fall onto the exam table while we were seeing a patient.   As a nurse (who was tired of being a nurse) I was grateful the Lord was not calling me to that place but instead to use my gifts of music across town at Redeemer.

That trip was capped off by a visit to the Medical Community meeting on Sunday night at Lee House on Hyde Park.   There were about 40 - 50 people in the living room and hallway of Bob and Mary Carol Hanson’s big brick home on Hyde Park in the Montrose area.  A local philanthropist, Mr. Ryan, had bought 5 large homes in the tired art community that bordered the fourth ward in Houston and donated them to the Medical Community that ran the Clinic for the huge cost of one dollar per year per house.  He leased them and paid taxes on them: the inhabitants were responsible to improve them and pay utilities.   I don’t think he ever expected each of these once stately homes to house 15 - 20 people each.

I met with Andy Austin and Grover Newman before our trip to the airport the next morning and told them about my background, vision and the feeling that God was calling me to come and be part of the Music Ministry at Redeemer.   They asked about the other part of my life … nursing … and what the Lord was saying about the ministry in the Fourth Ward.   I remember very clearly telling them that was not where I was being called and that I very clearly heard the call to music, not medicine.   Because of commitments already made in NY State, it would be February 1974 before I could return for the requisite “discernment visit” for a month to be sure that call was real.

In early 1974 I arrived with my guitar and was assigned to stay in the Mazak household, where Bob Andrew was one of the handful of single adults in a nuclear family with 6 children and a mother (Marilyn) who was in full time counseling ministry at Redeemer.  My days were filled with cooking, cleaning, child care, laundry, an occasional noon Eucharist and - at the nudging of the elders from both Redeemer and the Medical communities - more trips to the Clinic where I worked several days as a staff nurse.  By week three, I had not actually been involved in any “music ministry” at Redeemer so I asked to meet with Andy and Grover again.  Their response went something like …  “We wondered how long it would take for you to claim your place where you felt called.”  That afternoon, Brian Howard and I went to visit a music store and found my 12 string Alvarez guitar which I have played since and the final two days of my stay, I was invited to play for Noon Eucharist and Friday night Prayer and Praise.   Finally … I had arrived.  Or so I thought!

I flew home, loaded my 1964 Mercury Comet with my clothes, guitar, nursing books and a few other odds and ends I thought might be helpful, cashed my savings into traveler’s checks and with a college friend from Michigan, was set to start out the following morning for the 4 day drive to Houston when the phone rang at 9PM.   It was Andy Austin.  “We have been praying about this since you left and believe that the Lord would not waste a nursing education.   You do belong here but not at Redeemer…in the Medical Community and as a nurse at the Fourth Ward Clinic.”   I was devastated!  But I knew I had a calling and trusted the Lord would be faithful to that calling so at 4am, Mike and I began the drive to Houston. 

Four long weary days later, we pulled off I-45 at Cullen Blvd and called the number for the clinic that Andy had given me, got directions to the Clinic and were greeted by Sharon King who took us to the retail part of the Weingartens that was being remodeled to house new modern exam rooms.  She drew a map on exam table paper and sent us off to Tim and Bonnie Telge’s house in Alief.  I was to share a room with 2 and a half year old Mark, and Sharon King was the other adult in the smallest of the Medical Community’s households .  I remember we sat around the living room that night with Tim and I playing guitar and Mike on his banjo playing for hours after dinner before the household quieted for the night.   The next day, Mike flew back to Niles Michigan and I began working at the Clinic full time (Wednesday…the first day).

 Tim Telge was the head of Music Ministry for the Medical Community and Sunday night at the weekly Community meeting, he asked me to play with him which I was glad to do.  It seemed that music I had never heard or sung, came off my fingers and out of my mouth seamlessly.   I was free!  Monday Morning I was asked to bring my guitar and lead music at the staff worship at 8:45 am at the Clinic.   All staff gathered to clean the clinic at 7am then broke for worship and prayer for the persons God would bring to us that day & we opened the doors for patients (often 30 - 40 already waiting) at 9:30 am.   The Clinic officially closed at 5PM but if there were still 25 patients left at that time, we stayed till all were seen, often getting home after 8PM.  This was Monday through Friday.   On Saturdays, we were officially open 9 - 1 but still arrived at 7am to clean and left the building between 3 and 4PM.

Monday night (the 6th day), Tim announced at dinner that Nancy Newman had called from Redeemer and invited the Medical Community musicians (Tim and myself) to join the worship team at Redeemer for rehearsals on Tuesday evenings. I cannot express the joy and freedom that came that Tuesday evening when we sat with the other guitarists and Carl Wheeler on bass learning to play “The Redeemer sound” as a group.   Morning and evening came, the seventh day.   And it was good.   The next morning, a call came into the Clinic from Redeemer and a message was delivered to me downstairs in the Clinic.   Would I please identify two days that would fit into the Clinic schedule for me to come over to Eastwood and play for Noon Eucharist and would I please consider joining the worship team for Friday night prayer and praise?

So … despite a call less than two weeks prior from Andy Austin saying God was saying I needed to be at the Clinic as a nurse instead of at Redeemer as a Musician, I was playing 6 mornings a week at the Clinic worship, two afternoons a week at Redeemer’ noon Eucharist and every Friday night at Redeemer for prayer and praise as well as helping Tim with music leadership of the Medical Community meetings.   I had heard correctly that God was calling me to this place to use the musical talents he had given me.  And he was using my work at the Clinic to smooth the rough edges of the idealistic young nurse that wanted to turn her back on nursing.

I saw things at the Clinic that nursing school and working in Albany Medical Center (an 800 bed teaching hospital) had never prepared me for.  And I got quite adept at taking a medical history in Spanish.  Within a month I was triaging the 100+ patients a day who came to us without an appointment determining if they could go into an appointment slot, needed to see one of our 8 specialists who came in a day a week and donated time, or were in need of a visit with one of our 3-4 physicians on duty in the clinic.  A couple of months later, I was given the task of managing the schedule of nursing staff (18 full and part time LVNs and RNs).  When Juan Serrano MD  joined us as OB/GYN specialist, he agreed to teach me what was needed to run the OB clinic weekly for all of the routine pregnancy visits as well as running a GYN clinic on standing orders three additional days a week.   I was promoted to head nurse and in my two and a half days in general medicine clinic continued to triage and occasionally see patients.

By late 1974, we had constructed enough of the retail area of Weingarten’s with volunteer help from the Community and the Church that we had space for three physicians to see patients in modern, well lit exam rooms with new, or like-new, furnishings.   We even had sinks with running water and sufficient rest rooms for staff and patients!   In addition to the large general medicine clinic, we now had a working dental clinic with Stu Stimson DDS as a full time dentist and member of the Medical community.   John Venaglia OD was coming up from Galveston once a week to run an eye clinic.  We had a specialty wing where we had podiatry, dermatology, surgical, pediatric, cardiology clinics one day a week.  And we had a women’s health clinic four days a week where we offered prenatal and post-partum care, nutrition counseling, birth control teaching and medication.   Our laboratory was growing exponentially with state of the art equipment donated as a result of efforts of Shirley Mitchell AMT and a well-stocked pharmacy overseen by John Rodenbough, MD and Roy Pettway with medication samples donated by pharmaceutical reps.   Many a night or between patients we gave up breaks to pop pills from bubble wrapped sample cards into bottles that would be more compact and easier for patients to handle.

 Millie Daily and Dave Carlson managed to take thousands of medical records and organize them in what for that time and place was a very forward thinking and modern Medical Records system.   Affifa Matta was cherished as a healer in her Physical Therapy department.  And there were always visitors … Thank God there was no HIPPA in effect in those days because if Dr. Eckert needed help with a circumcision and the nurses were all busy, he was likely to grab a visitor to the community who’d been asked to help out in reception for the day to hold the infant while he did the procedure.  And guests were put to work pulling and refilling medical records or helping out in the pharmacy counting and bottling prescription meds.

 Nancy Satterfield and Joe Byrne oversaw the administration of the clinic from the loft over the old loading dock.   Dan Butler did the financial management and Franklin Marzullo headed the social service department.  By the time Bob Eckert left the Clinic to begin his traveling evangelism ministry in early 1975, there were more than 80 full and part time volunteers working at the clinic which was seeing patients without ever generating bills.   Occasionally someone would offer to pay what they could for services received but more often than not, the Community benefited by the gardens of our patients or their pantries or kitchens.   I used to love it when one older woman would go with her daughter to Texas City each month “crabbin” and bring us a 10 gallon stew pot of crab gumbo the next day for our staff lunch at the clinic.

In the early months of 1975, a special meeting of the Medical Community was called at the Marzullo household where Bob Eckert announced that the Lord had called him away from the Clinic to a traveling ministry of teaching and he was moving to Sulphur Springs.   Redeemer did not feel, with all of the ministries that they now had active that they wanted to assume headship in his absence but St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bellaire Texas was looking to start Charismatic Household Community and would gladly take on the elders of the Medical Community and the following day, we did a “fruit basket turnover move” and put thirty of us from Medical Community households into St. Matthew’s homes and moved an equal number of people from St. Matthew’s  homes to the Montrose area and the Clinic grew in staff and the number of patients we were able to serve.  I had to stop playing Noon Eucharist and Friday nights at Redeemer and now played on Thursday nights at St. Matthew’s prayer and Praise.  And I missed Redeemer.

In the months following the departure of Bob Eckert from the Clinic, we continued to see upwards of 150 patients daily under the medical direction of Drs Red Fisher and Ron Ross as well as the specialists that came to us regularly.  But then … Medicare and Medicaid cut payments and the clinic income dropped by nearly 80% in the course of just a couple of months since our income was almost solely from third party payers.  And pharmaceutical companies started more closely regulating the samples that were doled out and our available stock of medication went from bountiful to meager over the course of a few short months.  By late 1976, many of the volunteers had left, the professional staff was getting part time or even full time positions in other medical facilities and The Clinic as we knew it ceased to exist.   It was later reopened under far stricter guidelines under a not for profit and eventually became a Satellite Clinic for the City of Houston.  When David and I visited Houston for Redeemer’s final weekend in February 2011, the building was gone.   Leveled as if it never existed.  And the community homes donated by Mr. Ryan have been leveled and a new high end gated community now resides where we once lived. ©2011. Click site map to navigate
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