When Charlie Speziale first set eyes on the room at the Providence Rescue Mission where he would treat some of the poorest patients in the city, he shook his head: This will not do.
There were holes in the walls, water stains on the ceiling, exposed pipes, rotten wood and mold – and the place was crammed with storage boxes. “You really couldn't move,’’ says Speziale.
The University of Rhode Island nursing student and his classmates got to work. Speziale renovated the room from top to bottom, and, together, they turned it into a community health clinic that is clean and welcoming.
“This project is what community health is all about, drawing on life experiences and strengths to improve care and treatment,’’ says Speziale, of Cranston. “I feel really privileged to be part of something so great.’’
Speziale and his colleagues – Regina Monteiro, also of Cranston, and Joanne Czerwein, of Burrillville – are students in URI’s R.N.-to-B.S. program, which allows registered nurses who have a two-year associate’s degree or a three-year hospital diploma to obtain their bachelor’s degrees.
One of the unique aspects of the program is that it allows students to keep working while taking classes on the Kingston campus and URI’s Feinstein College of Continuing Education in Providence.
As part of their studies, students participate in a clinical rotation. Speziale and the others are volunteering 14 weeks at the Rescue Mission, a nonprofit on Cranston Street in Providence that provides free shelter, food and health care to people who are poor and homeless. The three URI students were charged with the daunting task of starting a nursing clinic there.
At first, they weren’t sure they could pull it off. When Rebecca Carley, of Coventry, an assistant nursing professor at URI, showed them the room they felt, well, queasy. “It was in terrible shape,’’ says Czerwein. “I called my Mom later and said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ ’’ says Monteiro.
But they inhaled deeply and huddled as a team. A former carpenter, Speziale gutted the room and put up new walls and doors, installed a drop ceiling and wiring and refinished the floor – all on his own time. He also spent $2,000 of his own money on building supplies.
Monteiro and Czerwein tackled the administrative duties. Monteiro set up two flu clinics, and Czerwein collected the countless health forms required for patients. “We all had our jobs to do,’’ says Czerwein. “No one person could have done this.’’
The nursing clinic treats the 120 or so men and women living at the shelter, as well as people in the neighborhood, one of the poorest in the city. The clinic’s major focus is to help people who are medically underserved connect to bigger health care facilities, such as the Rhode Island Free Clinic.
But the URI clinic also provides care and prevention, especially for chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. The Rescue Mission already offers dental and eye care. Having a health care center on site is crucial for quick treatment of minor problems, says Steven Gomes, assistant director of the Rescue Mission.
“We’ve got people going to the emergency room for aspirin,’’ says Gomes. “The clinic will benefit everyone in the long run. Look at the room now – awesome job.’’
URI’s College of Nursing donated some medical supplies, but more would be appreciated, including an exam table, medical cabinets, file cabinets, office chairs, file folders, a computer, a printer, a wall-mounted blood pressure cuff, hand sanitizer, gauze, saline and a pulse oximeter, which measures oxygen levels in the blood. Medical brochures, posters and handouts about diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and other illnesses are also needed.
“Proud’’ is how Carley feels about her three students. The goal is to make the clinic self-sustaining so it’s still in business years down the road.
“This project highlights what nurses are able to do, if given the right opportunities,’’ she says. “There’s a real need in this community for a health care clinic, and my students were able, in a short period of time, to see the vision and get on board.’’
One thing the clinic is missing: a name. “Suggestions,’’ says Czerwein, “are welcome.’’
The clinic is open Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m., with plans to expand if more volunteers come forward. Czerwein will continue volunteering after she graduates this winter, and Monteiro will do an independent study there.
“It’s a good feeling to give back,’’ says Monteiro. “It’s all I really ever wanted to do.’’