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Lower Lights Christian Health Center

A Special Report
Today's Christian Doctor - Summer 2003

For 40 years Dr. Robert Amicon served the Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio as an anchor primary care physician. At retirement in 2002 he hoped to ensure continuity of the highest quality care for his 1,500 regular patients and to improve access to primary care for the community.

Over Amicon’s 40 years Franklinton changed. Today it is an impoverished neighborhood of about 16,500 residents. Forty eight percent of the population lives below poverty. Single women head 53 percent of all households, and 56 percent of the population over the age of 18 has less than a 12th grade education. Unemployment is higher than 30 percent. Most other physicians had moved out to the more affluent new suburbs, and a poor payor mix offered little incentive for new practices to form.

“The potential loss of our publicly funded family practice clinic and the imminent retirement of some of our private family practitioners will leave Franklinton’s indigent families more vulnerable than ever to a lack of medical care,” wrote Larry Danduran, President and CEO of Franklinton’s Gladden Community House in early 2001. “Our families and individuals need continuity in a doctor / patient relationship. They need someone who can treat the whole family and not send them here and there for their primary medical services.”

Enter Dr. Dana Vallageon. “Dr. Dana,” as many people call her, has discerned a calling to healthcare for the poor since high school. She knows the community and its needs, having completed her residency at the Mt. Carmel Medical Center, which is located in Franklinton. At Mt. Carmel she served as Chief Resident and was recognized in 1999 with the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians Honored Resident Award.

Dr. Vallangeon and a grassroots network of Christians active in the community formed the Lower Lights Christian Health Center, with advice and technical assistance from CMDA’s partner in ministry, The Jericho Road Foundation. Lowere Lights Compassionate Ministries of the Bellows Avenue Church of the Nazarene served as the launch pad. Rev. Jane Fulks led a resurgence of the Bellows Avenue congregation, guiding its extension into a wide range of helping ministries, from 12-step programs to transitional housing. “Our ‘Lower Lights’ name comes from an old hymn,” says Pastor Fulks.

‘Brightly beams our Father’s mercy from His lighthouse ever more; but to us He gives the keeping of the lights along the shore;

Chorus: Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave! Some poor fainting, struggling seaman, you may rescue, you may save.’”

With financing made possible through the Central Ohio District of the Church of the Nazarene and the City of Columbus, Lower Lights bought Dr. Amicon’s practice and his office building.

This created a win-win for everybody: Dr. Amicon realized economic value in the sale of the practice and achieved his continuity of care goals; his patients have excellent new physician care in a familiar setting; Mt. Carmel benefits from primary care coverage in the neighborhood and is likely to find some relief for the emergency room; and, the neighborhood has a new community health center where care is available to all regardless of ability to pay.

The Lower Lights Christian Health Center vision is to improve the health of Franklinton by providing convenient, quality health care, and to minister to the whole person—body, soul, mind, and spirit. Its mission is to provide high quality holistic medical care to an integrated patient population, irrespective of ability to pay, from an openly Christian perspective, with an emphasis on continuity of care, dignity and respect.

Specialists who share this vision and are willing to take a limited number of cases are essential for the clinic to achieve its mission. “Not everyone is called full-time to this practice setting,” observes Vallangeon, “but we are all called to use our talents for the good of others.” To make a difference in the inner city takes a collaborative effort. It is more than a one-doctor practice can manage.

Vallangeon’s aim for a network of specialist “partners in ministry” is five to ten doctors for each speciality such as cardiology and gastroenterology, each willing to see one or two uninsured every month. This is potentially an avenue of service for CMDA chapters around the country. “God uses and blesses what we give in his name,” says Dr. Dana.

"God calls us all as Christians in three ways,” says Dr. Vallangeon. “First, the poor and marginalized matter to God. Countless times the Scriptures repeat the theme, ‘do the least of these.’ Second, we all need to be good stewards of time and resources. Third, God calls us to give what seems like a little and allow him to multiply it. Pray about how God may challenge you to become involved in making a difference and helping him transform lives and neighborhoods.”

Interview with Dr. Dana Vallangeon

TCD: Why do you do this?
Dr. Vallangeon: At age 16, during a missionary service I began to sense God’s call on my life. Later it became specific that I was being called to medical missions in the inner cities of America. God, from that time until now, has been so faithful to confirm that call and guide me through each step. He has given me a love for the inner city and the poor. He has given me a love for medicine. Most of all, He has given me a passion to use my gifts in a place they are most needed to, hopefully, allow His transforming love and hope to be evident.

TCD: How has the vision developed?
Dr. Vallangeon: I have served on Lower Lights compassionate ministry board for about five years. Through this experience, God placed a dream in our heart to develop a high quality health center that would integrate payers (i.e. private insurance, public insurance, uninsured) with an emphasis on community care. We hope to develop a place that is welcoming and healing by treating the whole person (body, soul, mind and spirit) and give opportunities for lives to be fully transformed by Christ.

TCD: What difficulties have you faced?
Dr. Vallangeon: It has been much more difficult to develop a funding base than I originally expected. We have to date operated off loans co-signed by the district (Central Ohio) Church of the Nazarene when we originally bought the property and practice. This, combined with patient-generated revenue, has been sustaining us. We have slowly started to get private donors, but foundation support has been lacking.

TCD: What advice do you have for others who might want to establish a similar clinic?
Dr. Vallangeon: First, be open to what God is calling you to. It may not be full-time inner city medicine, but there are needs all around us. We serve a creative God. Think outside the box and let Him use you. Second, seek the advice of someone who has done it before (in our case Jericho Road). Third, find out who also in your community wants to help. Fourth, dream big. Fifth, establish a good board. Sixth, don’t give up (it’s hard at times but God is faithful). Last, and most importantly, have a huge prayer base and cover your efforts in prayer. God will multiply them.