The Care Free Story

In 2004, after 28 years of providing medical care for families in the semi-rural community of Mason Michigan, I, Dr. Barry Saltman and my Nurse Practitioner wife, Suzanne, retired… Well, maybe. We thought we would like to pay back our community for the years of support we enjoyed during our careers. Perhaps we might identify 50 to 100 people who were without insurance and open a “ma and pa” kind of clinic to address their health care needs a couple of nights a week and then head north to our new retirement home.

John Schneider, a well respected feature writer in the Lansing community, got wind of our plans and conducted an interview that was reported in the Lansing State Journal. The next day, I answered over 150 phone calls. One third were from people looking for dental care, (I had to ask them to give us time for that one), one third requesting medical care, (we invited them in and assumed their care) and one third offering help, in one fashion or another; from physicians, nurses, and medical assistants to a grandmother asking if she might do Care Free’s laundry while baby-sitting her grand-children. (Honestly)

We realized we would not be able to limit the patient numbers. After a lot of consideration and discussion, we decided to try to accommodate as many needy patients as we could. (We are not heading north very often) The bottom line is that we are presently sharing care with a wide array of health care providers, for approximately 7,000 children, women and men who would otherwise not have access to health care.

Care Free has two locations that provide an impressive collection of primary care, dental care, optometry, and behavioral health care services. This has been made possible by the compassion and generosity of an entire community, from practically every entity.  Volunteer health care services and financial support has come from health care providers (Physicians, Dentists, Nurse Practitioners, Nurses, Physician Assistants, and Optometrists); the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine; the Michigan State University schools of Nursing, Social Work, and Psychology; the University of Michigan Medical School; the Lansing Community College schools of Nursing and Dental Hygiene; McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital and Sparrow Hospital; Delta Dental; the CEI Community Mental Health Agency; Mayor Virg Bernero and the City of Lansing; the Ingham County Health Department; and multiple private business interests. A large number of private residents have also contributed anywhere from $1.00 to $36,000 to help with the mission.

From the early days of Care Free, the business plan has been to accommodate donations of time, services, supplies and housing. For example, despite the fact that there was no intention to extend care from Mason to Lansing, it was impossible to say “no” to the generous offer of Dr. and Mrs. Pablo Quiroga to accept their donation of a comfortable and well outfitted medical office in a well established and strategically located professional condominium in Lansing Michigan. In a very short time, the needs of large numbers of people in the Lansing community overwhelmed the space of this office and it became necessary to lease another office.

The Dental Clinic grew out of an invitation for me to become a member of an Oral Health Task Force. After receiving a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to explore the possibility of establishing a free dental clinic, we gained the support of a local dentist and the clinic became a reality. The clinic began with a $50,000 grant Delta Dental of Michigan.

The free Optometry Clinic exists because two local Optometrists, Dr Len Silverman and Dr Mitch Dobrzelewski, after accepting Care Free patients in their offices, decided that they would set up a free clinic on site, at Care Free. Patients are able to obtain free or affordable eye examinations and glasses, if needed.

The Director of the Michigan State School of Social Work, moved by articles about Care Free in the local media, established a relationship with some of his graduate students and Care Free that enables us to provide 65-80 hours per week of on-site mental health counseling. This is further made possible by PhD candidates from the MSU Department of Psychology.

The generosity of our community has made this venture a reality and has allowed us to provide over 40,000 visits to the uninsured or underinsured in our community.