College educated and struggling to get by, Donna DeChenne is a paradox.
The 61-year-old Spokane woman holds an English degree from Gonzaga University and is a tournament bridge player with enough points to qualify as a Life Master.
She also is homeless, has several chronic illnesses and no health insurance. She lives at Ogden Hall, a Spokane shelter for women and children.
She worked most of her adult life. But in 1995, DeChenne came home to Spokane from Washington, D.C., to help her elderly parents. When they died, her father in 1999 and her mother in 2003, DeChenne couldn’t afford the rent.
She got help for a while from relatives, then in April moved into the shelter. She has no children, so she doesn’t qualify for welfare. She’s too young for Medicare.
DeChenne has fallen through the government safety net and is in the hands of charity.
Volunteers hope to open a clinic for Ogden Hall’s women and children next month. Although Spokane has other community clinics that serve low-income people, it’s difficult for the Ogden Hall women to get to them, DeChenne said Friday.
“Not having a car, it’s rough running from here to there,” she said. “Especially if you get there and they don’t have what you need.”
DeChenne takes medications for epilepsy, a thyroid condition and high blood pressure. Her goal is to get healthy enough to work again. She worked 15 years for the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. After a layoff, she worked 10 more years as a cashier in the drive-in window of a fast-food restaurant.
In fact, her good work history keeps her from qualifying for Social Security disability benefits.
The Helping Hands Clinic at Ogden Hall won’t be fancy. Volunteers are trying to raise only $25,000 for remodeling, and the project will not seek federal funding, said Kari Reese, spokeswoman for Union Gospel Mission, which runs Ogden Hall.
The clinic will rely on a volunteer staff and may be open only two days a week. It will offer basic health care. More complicated health problems will be referred to other doctors, Reese said.
Some homeless women now go for care to the federally funded clinics run by the Community Health Association of Spokane. CHAS provided almost 10,000 medical and dental care visits for homeless women last year, executive director Peg Hopkins said.
But the women sometimes put off going to a CHAS clinic, or to one of the other low-income clinics in town, and end up after hours in hospital emergency rooms.
From January through June, Deaconess Medical Center’s emergency room handled 31 cases from Ogden Hall at a cost of $85,000. Hospitals are straining under the rising cost of charity care.
“This is a community problem, and community solutions are going to help relieve the burden on emergency rooms,” said Deaconess spokeswoman Janice Marich, welcoming the new clinic.
The women now also can go to the Union Gospel Mission, a men’s shelter, where doctors volunteer services.
Dr. Charlie Wolfe is a retired doctor. He is on the board of the Union Gospel Mission and volunteers his medical services there. Wolfe has been pushing for several years for a separate clinic at Ogden Hall, he said.
“Because many of the women there have been abused, we’re going to have a female physician or nurse practitioner,” Wolfe said.
Last year, Ogden Hall served, on average, 54 women and children a night, Reese said. The shelter served 41,602 meals and distributed 3,363 clothing items.
A garden party luncheon on Sept. 10 at 11:45 a.m. will help raise money for the clinic. Call (509) 327-7737 for ticket information. Tickets are $40 for individuals or $280 for a table of eight.
“Finally, the Lord’s timing is right, and we’re getting it going,” Wolfe said.
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