CAPE CORAL, Fla. Before she starts her workday, Dr. Susan Hook gathers with her staff at Samaritan Health & Wellness for a morning devotional.
“Lord, whoever is supposed to be our patient, we know you’re going to bring them,” they say.
And the patients keep coming in.
In the nearly three years that Samaritan Health & Wellness Clinic has been open, more than 4,000 patients have made more than 10,000 office visits. Meanwhile, community members have saved more than $1 million dollars in billable services.
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Hook started with a staff of two — herself and an office manager. The Cape Coral Christ-based primary health care facility that integrates behavioral health for the working underinsured or uninsured has expanded to 11 staff members. By adding five rooms, more than 1,000 square feet was added in a recent renovation.
Programs include Discovering Life & the Pursuit of Happiness; Freedom From Food Obsession; Family Support Group; Breaking the Chains of Trauma; and Staying Quit/Relapse Prevention.
“This place has just blown up,” Hook said. “This was not Sue Hook’s plan. Whatever God has planned is better than my plan.”
Filled with a strong faith, big smile and a humble but passionate view of her role, Hook, 54, considers herself a servant of those she serves. Hook has more than 30 years experience in nursing, which included a stint with Lee Physicians Group. She’s a registered nurse with the Florida Board of Nursing and is an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner.
As patients enter Samaritan Health & Wellness, there is a wooden cross on the wall and there’s another in a patient room, courtesy of Felipe Rivera, a master carpenter. In the waiting room are spiritual books, magazines and newsletters.
If they choose, patients can pray with the specialist before their session.
Hook has had people tell her they feel an immediate peace. One told the doctor that “God brought her here.”
Art Doyle has known Hook for 11 years and the two have developed a strong bond. Doyle, 64, battles depression and alcoholism. He’d rather not talk about that but wants others to know about this clinic and his doctor so “it’s necessary to suck it up and go with it.
“She’s all about people and helping people,” Doyle said. “That showed from day 1.
“I had a neighbor who died July 15 of liver failure. The doctor told him, ‘Quit drinking or I don’t want you to come back in, there’s nothing I can do for you.’ You don’t get that here. I was lucky. So many people fall through the cracks. This is the kind of outfit that if you become a patient, you won’t fall through the cracks unless you let it.”
Wanita Burlingame, 61, started coming to the clinic two years ago after moving from New York when her husband Robert died. She has no insurance and needed an alternative after a doctor visit cost her $400.
Her challenge is overeating, which is partly manifested after being assaulted as a youth for years, starting at age 5.
“It’s just very personal,” she said of her relationship with Hook. “It’s like the doctor that used to come to your house. You know them, you feel like they’re your neighbor.
“Sue has a sense of humor when diagnosing; but when getting down to business, she takes it seriously. She makes you feel at ease.”
A native of Garrett and Fort Wayne, Indiana, Hook volunteered at a homeless shelter called Samaritan Center in Auburn, Indiana.
When thinking of a name for her clinic, “Samaritan kept coming in my head,” she said.
In the Book of Luke, thieves beat and steal from a man, leaving him naked and penniless. A Levite and a priest walk by without giving aid. Ironically, it’s the Samaritan who cares for the man, then takes him to an inn where he pays for the man’s lodging and continued care with a promise to pay for additional care.
In the early days, Samaritans were considered lower class and clashed with the Jews.
“When you look at your brother, somebody who’s in need and you have the ability to help, you do it,” Hook said. “That’s where this all comes from.”
Hook and her patients feel there are two areas that separate Samaritan Health & Wellness from many other facilities - cost and a mind/body/soul approach.
To be seen as a new patient is $50. Follow-up care is offered at $35. Counseling is $40 per session. Radiology Regional, Quest and LabCorp work with the center to keep costs low. Hook said the biggest challenge is getting specialists to work for a lower fee.
“I don’t want this to be free and our patients don’t want free,” she said. “This is not a free clinic and was not supposed to be one.”
For those who can’t afford the center’s prices, there is a Silver Coins Club, modeled after the Good Samaritan who left the innkeeper two coins. The patient pays $5 and the rest comes from the club.
Those patients have access up to five visits, Hook said.
More than half (52 percent) of Samaritan’s annual revenue is in the form of private donations. In three years of operations, it has received $228,000 from the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics grant in 2016-17.
Hook’s staff includes Jabneel Torres, a certified addiction professional; pastor, counselor Joel Montalvo; Leslie Robinson, a prevention specialist and community liaison; Jessica Sagastume, licensed mental health counselor/intern; medical officer manager Cheryl Roman; medical assistants Julie Schneider, Daisy Leeds, and Julianna Devoy; front office coordinator Maris Lewis and front office assistant, Axia Montalvo.
By taking a mind/body/soul concept, specialists can share information on a multi-pronged approach for a patient in the same location.
“Dr. Sue works with the body, another with the mind and they all work with the spirit,” Burlingame said.
Doyle had a situation where he went to a doctor for his heart, was put on blood pressure medicine, then told his psych medicine would be changed.
“I said, ‘No, you don’t,’ “Doyle said. “He has no idea how long it takes to get something that works with minimal side effects. You can get bounced around for six-eight months. Here, it’s done in house. They sit and meet with each other. Before you know it, you’re on your way.
“To get that kind of response, you usually have to be very wealthy or have extremely good insurance or live in an upper-scale facility. People like me don’t have those financial resources.”
Burlingame and Doyle had a bleak outlook on life six months ago — but it has since changed.
“I have hope for the future,” Doyle said.
Burlingame added, “People tell me I’m strong but I feel I’m a weak person.
“My wall was so impenetrable that in the past, we’d would get to a point, then can’t get through it. But I’m doing way better than when I first came.”
Six years ago, a guest comment on Janet Parshall’s ‘In The Market’ on Moody Bible Channel helped Hook alter her thoughts for the way she wanted to treat her fellow men, women and children.
It came from Scott Morris, founder and executive director of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tennessee.
“I heard him say, ‘If you as the church — Christ followers — aren’t involved in the healing ministries, you’re leaving one-third out when Christ walked the Earth,’ “ she said.
When Morris added people could attend a workshop on how to start a healing ministry, Hook felt compelled.
She prayed and spoke with her husband Steve.
She attended a workshop in Memphis in October.
She talked to her pastor, Dennis Gingerich, at Cape Christian.
“It resonated with a need we already saw and knew existed,” Gingerich said. “My wife is a registered nurse at Lee Health and she sees patients that come in. Some had no doctor, no prenatal care and here they’re coming in in labor.
“So when she talked, I immediately saw the need and caught the vision.”
Gingerich said he “talked to my people and she talked to her people” and he became part of a steering committee. The church gave seed money, Gingerich said, which helped encourage others to donate.
Armed with a year’s budget in November 2014, Hook opened Samaritan Health & Wellness.
“This is the hardest job I’ve ever had but it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she said. “When God puts something before you, it’s gonna be hard. But it’s worth it because it’s from Him.”