By Peter Bradley
In 1978, Sister Marie Therese Solomon, O.D.N., from the Sisters of the Company of Mary recognized a health care need in Orange County. With the help of a friend who had worked in health clinics, they formed the Lestonnac Clinic Ladies Guild.
This dedicated group of women opened the first free clinic on Chapman Avenue in Orange with the financial support of Carl Karcher and Allen Boerner. Their focus was pediatrics and dental care.
Their mission was to provide health care services to the poor and uninsured throughout Southern California. The Lestonnac Free Clinic was acutely aware of the correlation between poverty, lack of insurance and poor health outcomes. By 1990, the Lestonnac Free Clinic had expanded to adult services. The Clinic offered free primary care and specialty care, dental and vision services, mental health counseling, nutritional counseling and community education.
Ed Gerber, the current clinic director, came to work at the Lestonnac Free Clinic 20 years ago as its accountant. But he was not new to the clinic. Ed had brought his ill child to Lestonnac when he was unemployed and without insurance. He was so impressed with the compassionate care his son received, he was grateful to return and join the Lestonnac staff.
Since 2005, the Lestonnac Free Clinic has grown to 14 satellite locations including a mobile clinic. It came to Riverside County in 2010, providing primary and preventive care in Riverside, Jurupa Valley, Moreno Valley, Perris and Murrieta. In 2015, the clinic had over 23,000 patient visits.
At the invitation of Bishop Gerald Barnes, the Lestonnac Free Clinic opened a new location on E. 21st Street in San Bernardino across from St. Bernardine Medical Center. This collaborative effort with Dignity Health which opened in the fall of 2015 was supported by a donation from the Sisters of the Precious Blood. The San Bernardino clinic has primary and specialty care, as well as dental and imaging services.
As the largest free clinic in California, the Lestonnac Free Clinic continues to study the Affordable Care Act and develop new plans that will provide the needed health care safety net for the poor in our communities.
Note: it was incorrectly reported in the February issue of the BYTE that the Lestonnac Free Clinic location in San Bernardino receives patients that cannot be treated at St. Bernardine Medical Center’s emergency room because they are uninsured. The SBMC Emergency Department does regularly provide care to those who are uninsured and by its Catholic mission would not deny treatment based on insurance status.