Sally Fabian Oresic was having second thoughts about retirement when I talked to her in mid-May. “What was I thinking?” she asked as the June 30 day approached. Her leaving the Ann Silverman Health Clinic is tinged with sadness as she is parting from a career she has cherished.
It’s been challenging, super demanding, not a job to be done by the faint of heart.
Sally led me through the clinic in the Doylestown Hospital basement. The area was recently updated, creating offices and a waiting room where there used to be hallways, a dental treatment and social services area on one side, medical examination rooms on the other.
Recently Sally’s colleagues celebrated her for 50 years in public health. She’s been at the Ann Silverman Clinic for seven years. Before that, for 16 years, she directed BCHIP (Bucks County Health Improvement Partnership), an office supported by Bucks County hospitals, the Bucks County Department of Health and the Bucks County Medical Society. BCHIP offers wellness programs like smoking cessation, family planning and advance care planning, and immunization support to county residents.
Sally has been the director of nursing for the health department, a prison nurse and a home visitor, all for Bucks County. Few others have been as dedicated to community health for their entire careers.
A group of volunteer physicians founded what was the Free Clinic of Doylestown Hospital 28 years ago. A plaque on the clinic wall describes the founding:
“It started with a young mother and her sick child — and nowhere to go for help. The mother had no insurance and no money for doctors or medicine. When Dr. Daniel A. Nesi treated this child’s ear infection without charge, he knew that it was not an isolated case but part of a larger challenge facing our growing Doylestown community in the early 1990s: the lack of access to health care for the low income, uninsured.”
Nesi, then the president of the medical staff, worked with Rich Reif, Doylestown Hospital CEO to get the clinic started, following the guidance of the Village Improvement Association (VIA, founder of Doylestown Hospital) mission to improve the quality of life in the Central Bucks community. Nesi and Reif secured volunteers from the medical staff and donors to equip the clinic and hire an administrative staff.
Doylestown resident Ann Silverman was the first major supporter.
“The first clinic services were provided in 1994 on Tuesday evenings, staffed solely by volunteers. Dr. Joseph Shaeffer, a family practitioner, was present on that first Tuesday evening and continues to be one of the longest-serving volunteer doctors,” the plaque states.
“... Ann Silverman’s role in providing community leadership was memorialized in 2008 when contributions from the Silverman family in her memory established an endowment for clinic services.” The clinic’s name changed that year to The Ann Silverman Community Health Clinic.
In the beginning the clinic offered only medical services; a few years later, vital dental services were added. Today, the full-time staff, plus the volunteers, care for 2,100 patients from all parts of Bucks County. If a regular volunteer medical provider can’t provide the needed service, the clinic searches for a physician or dental specialist who will donate the service. As a last resort, the clinic pays the bill.
“We try to get everything for free,” Sally said. The hospital takes care of x-rays and blood work and she’s considering approaching Uber to request free transportation.
The clinic takes advantage of free prescription drug offers, acting as the go-between between patient and pharmaceutical company. Frank Skafuro, a former Pennridge High School psychologist, volunteers to contact suppliers and fill out forms to help patients navigate the system.
“In the beginning, patients were mostly white Americans,” Sally said, “but the population has changed. Now three-quarters of our patients are immigrants. In the early days, we didn’t have to think about language but now have interpreters.
“The needs are the same,” she said, and the services continue.
The coronavirus pandemic was a major challenge as services needed to go on as usual. “Right off the bat we saw the kids were hungry,” Sally said.
“We had some gift cards we could give out for groceries; then people started dropping off gift cards. We received more than $9,000 in gift cards.” As we ended our conversation in Sally’s lilac-painted office, she mused about the needs that keep changing and never ending and recalled a favorite saying in the Silverman family, which has donated to many Bucks County groups: “The only reason we have money is to give it away.”
Sally hopes to continue contributing to the clinic in some way. “If they’ll have me,” she said.
But she has a biking cruise from Venice to Athens planned and that’s something she’s not been able to do before — she’s hoping to get a glimpse of George Clooney at Lake Como.
Errata: In a Happy to Be Here column published April 13, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Choir Director Lee Millhous was incorrectly called “Lee Miller.” Choir director for 20 years, he was known for staging Broadway shows, including “Guys and Dolls,” “The Music Man,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and others.