"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." — John 13:14-15
The scriptural inspiration for Saint Alphonsus Health System foot care clinics
By LISA EISENHAUER
When Saint Alphonsus Health System held its first foot care clinic at a homeless shelter back in 2015, Cari Moodie says it was no coincidence that the event took place on Holy Thursday. The volunteers were intentional in following the example set by Jesus
at the Last Supper when he demonstrated his love by washing the feet of his disciples.
"We stuck with our tradition and our roots," explains Moodie, coordinator of faith community nursing for Boise, Idaho-based Saint Alphonsus. The system is part of Trinity Health.
The clinics had become frequent events at various locations until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the system halted them along with other community outreach programs. Last month, Saint Alphonsus restarted its foot clinic ministry at Corpus Christi House
in Boise, the same homeless shelter where the first one was held.
Some of the 23 patients who were seen during the 3½-hour event had gone so long without foot care that their nails wrapped around their toes, which were sore and swollen from the pressure.
"Two individuals specifically, when they stood up and put on their new socks and their shoes, they both mentioned how their feet did not hurt," Moodie recalls. "They could walk now, and their life was instantly better."
'Launch and learn phase'
Christopher Stock, vice president of community health and well-being for Saint Alphonsus, says that is the sort of compassionate healing that the system strives for through the foot care clinics
and through its other community health programs. The health system's mission is "to serve together in the spirit of the Gospel as a compassionate and transforming healing presence within our communities." "So that's what we work to do," Stock says.
Saint Alphonsus is restarting other community health programs too. Stock says the rebooting community health services are in a "launch and learn phase." He expects the services will be back to their pre-COVID frequency in the spring.
The relaunch includes deploying the system's mobile medical preventive health clinics for their original purpose of providing primary care at no cost to patients across a catchment area that stretches from the urban environment of Boise to the sparsely
populated environs of eastern Oregon.
During the pandemic, those units had been repurposed as mobile vaccination dispensaries. They continue to serve that purpose, but Stock says their wider array of services also are in demand in places with few medical services and by populations with little
other access to health care.
Vicki Funaiole, left, and Valerie Mentzer tend to the feet of Lynda Reynolds during a foot care clinic sponsored by Saint Alphonsus Health System at Corpus Christi House, a shelter for those who are unhoused in Boise, Idaho. Funaiole and Mentzer are
volunteers with Saint Alphonsus' faith community nursing program. The foot clinics, once a frequent community health offering, restarted in November after being halted early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stock says the mobile clinics are linked to Saint Alphonsus' Social Care Hub, a group of community health workers who connect patients to the services of various community partners to address social influencers of health, such as food and transportation
insecurity and homelessness.
The mobile clinic has a core group of staff, while the foot care clinics rely on volunteers. "When we have the mobile clinics or the foot care clinics, it's really about bringing together the community and
bringing an opportunity for people to serve and give back," Stock says.
Even when the foot clinics were halted, the volunteers kept up their foot care-related efforts. They assembled care packages with do-it-yourself essentials such as lotion, clippers and nail files along with a new pair of socks. The packages were available
at Corpus Christi House.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the foot care clinics had proved so popular that Saint Alphonsus was holding about one a month at either Corpus Christi House, at senior housing communities or in conjunction with Saint Alphonsus' mobile health clinics.
Lesley Ashley rests while Valerie Mentzer, a volunteer
with Saint Alphonsus Health System’s faith community nursing program,
examines one of her feet. Ashley was among 23 people who came to a foot
clinic in November at a homeless shelter in Boise, Idaho. The clinic’s
team cleans, massages and examines participants’ feet and trims their
Moodie leads a team of eight to 10 workers at each foot care clinic. The mix of staff includes faith community nurses and trained nonmedical volunteers, called health ministers. Patients get a friendly welcome followed by a warm footbath with fragrant
essential oils. Then the nurses scrub, massage and examine patients' feet. "They get to sit down and let us serve them for a little while," Moodie says of the patients.
Two of the nurses who are regular volunteers are recent retirees certified in diabetic foot care. If patients need medical care for their feet, the clinic gives them referrals to podiatrists at Saint Alphonsus or another health system.
In addition to providing basic foot care, Moodie says the care team also wants the people who come to the foot care clinics to experience compassion and respect.
People who come to a foot care clinic for the first time are often apprehensive, Moodie says. Most of the patients are age 50 and older. Many of them are unhoused and spend their days on the streets, standing or walking. Some patients have chronic conditions
such as diabetes, edema and circulation problems that can cause complications for their feet. A systematic review of research
on foot conditions among people who are unsheltered published in 2016 in the journal PLOS ONE found calluses, ingrown toenails, bacterial infections and fractures were common complaints.
The volunteers at the Saint Alphonsus foot clinics offer a warm, safe respite for people who are often living on the margins. Moodie says the volunteers listen nonjudgmentally to every patient. "They can talk to us," she says of the clinic participants.
Returning patients plan their day around the clinics, Moodie says. At the foot clinic in November, she says some of the patients were so grateful they were smiling through tears as they put on their new socks and prepared to leave. Several asked: "When
are you coming again?"
Moodie says the volunteers also are moved by the experience. "I think we have just as big of smiles at the end because our heart is full, because we've helped them," she says.
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