Free clinic to grow

Russ and Kathy Shelton with Diana Lewis.

Madeline Hill used to be terrified of doctors. So when she desperately needed dental work, a friend tricked her into going. But her blood pressure was so high, she couldn’t undergo the procedure.

“I had no clue of what to do; no doctor, no dentist, barely living paycheck to paycheck,” she told an audience at Rochester’s Royal Park Hotel Sept. 24. Then she found the Gary Burnstein Community Health Clinic.

“God bless them,” she said. “The clinic has actually given me new life by providing me quality of life. … And I’m not afraid of doctors anymore.”

Hill is one of the many low-income, uninsured patients served annually by the Pontiac free clinic, which operates out of 1,500 square feet of space on University Drive. On Monday, at the clinic’s third annual Esteemed Women of Michigan luncheon, the packed crowd learned that the clinic will be moving to larger digs, thanks to the Robert S. Peterson Family Foundation, which has donated the money for a new building.

The clinic will move just one mile to a 5,400-square-foot space on Woodward formerly occupied by a car-parts distributor. Executive Director Pam Haratsis said the design for the space has been completed, a service that was also donated. Fundraising is now underway for the conversion and furnishing of the space. Haratsis said she hopes to be ready to move in a year from now.

The Burnstein clinic began in 1997 when cardiologist Gary Burnstein began providing volunteer health care for residents of Grace Centers of Hope, a homeless shelter in Pontiac. He died in 2003, but his work continues thanks to the volunteer efforts of doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other medical professionals. Last year the clinic logged more than 4,000 office visits and filled more than 7,000 prescriptions. No patient is ever asked to pay.

“It is the clinic’s goal to help everyone equally,” said Burnstein’s widow, Dana Burnstein. “Gary’s dream has truly become a labor of love for everyone involved with the clinic.”

Channel 7 news anchor Diana Lewis hosted the Esteemed Women of Michigan luncheon for the second year in a row. She called the clinic “a well-oiled machine.”

“In every face you can see the gratefulness, that someone is coming to their rescue,” she said. “And just because it’s a free clinic doesn’t mean it isn’t operating at the highest level possible.”

The 25 women who were honored at the luncheon included movers and shakers from the fields of health care, government and philanthropy. “These women have made a significant difference,” Lewis said. “We all know that metro Detroit needs every bit of help it can get.”

With growth on the horizon, the clinic is looking for all kinds of help, from the financial to the volunteer. “There isn’t anyone who can’t help us,” Dana Burnstein said. A matching grant will match the first $200,000 raised toward the new location.

Jay Haratsis, chairman of the clinic’s board of directors and general manager of the Royal Park Hotel, said the need is great—and increasing. The clinic receives no government funding and never asks patients for money, even though it has to pay for some services, such as lab tests.

“The one thing we won’t do is ask our patients to make decisions between filling a prescription and feeding their family,” he said. “It’s a misconception that everyone we serve is homeless.  … Some of them are just like you and just like me.”

Receiving the funds for the new building “is like waking up on Christmas morning,” he said. “Having a building is a magnificent start, but it’s just a first step in the dream of helping more people.”

To make a tax-deductible donation or for more information, visit or call 248-758-1690.

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