In the shadows of the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown Fort Worth sits Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County (UGM-TC), a non-profit organization that has served the homeless and less fortunate for more than 125 years. Located on East Lancaster Avenue since 1974, UGM-TC is home to around 350 people at any given time, who for various reasons, have nowhere else to go.
At UGM-TC, the less-fortunate get not only a roof over their head, a bed to sleep in and food to eat, they are also provided with the real, lasting help they need to get back on their feet. For some, that means job training and learning new skills. For others, it may mean help overcoming an addiction. And for many, it also means helping them treat and manage a wide array of health conditions.
That’s where Dr. Alan Davenport, a Privia Medical Group North Texas internal medicine and primary care physician, comes in. For more than a decade, Dr. Davenport has served as UGM-TC’s first and only Medical Director at the Healing Shepherd Clinic (HSC).
The Healing Shepherd Clinic
“Before the clinic, there was never a specific or structured way to address people’s health needs at Union Gospel Mission,” recalls Dr. Davenport. “People would have to try and find a free clinic somewhere to get medical treatment, or they would go to JPS,” referring to John Peter Smith Hospital, Tarrant County’s public hospital.
In 2007, the leadership of UGM-TC approached Dr. Davenport about establishing and leading a clinic for the residents of the mission. He agreed and in the 11 years since, has built the clinic into a model for pro-bono medical work that is making a transformative difference for hundreds of people each year. In 2017, the clinic saw more than 750 patients.
“When we first started, we put together a group of doctors in a completely makeshift situation. We basically had a stethoscope and a flashlight,” Dr. Davenport jokes, though he’s not completely exaggerating. “Today, we have 30 volunteer physicians who support our clinic’s work and handle everything from primary care to complex medical needs.” This is in addition to the nurse practitioner and two registered nurses who run the clinic on a day-to-day basis.
UGM-TC serves as a transitional home for a lot of different people who are trying to get back on their feet. Some are homeless because they lost a job. Others may have recently been released from prison and have nowhere to go. Others are escaping domestic violence or trying to defeat a substance abuse problem. “When someone is trying to learn a new job skill or overcome a setback in their life, they also have to be physically well enough to do those things,” says Dr. Davenport. “We help them recover – that’s what we're all about.”
As Medical Director, Dr. Davenport signs off on all patient charts handled by the nurse practitioner and therefore assumes any risk. He’s in the clinic himself at least once a month to see patients with more complex health needs.
Every resident of UGM-TC receives an initial physical examination. “For people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, emphysema and persistent back pain, we help them get their medications right,” Dr. Davenport explains. In situations where a patient has an acute need – such as an abscessed tooth, the clinic works to find a provider who can quickly treat the problem instead of putting the patient on a waiting list somewhere. “We basically function as a concierge service for our patients,” he says.
The clinic is structured so that when a specialist comes in, they can see several patients at once. “For example, we’ll group the patients who need to see an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor) or OB/Gyn all on one day,” says Dr. Davenport. This way, more patients can see the specialist they need. HSC currently has volunteer physicians in several specialty areas, including oral surgery, internal medicine, emergency medicine, orthopedic surgery, obstetrics & gynecology, otolaryngology, optometry, dermatology and podiatry.
Between the volunteer physicians and the clinic staff, HSC handles a variety of health needs for its patients. As a result of its partnership with JPS, patients are provided up to five prescription medications per month to treat chronic and acute health conditions. HSC also works closely with MHMR of Tarrant County, referring patients who may have mental health needs.
“One of the most important things we do is when people end up in the hospital, we help them manage their recovery after they are discharged by helping them with their medications and other needs,” says Dr. Davenport.
In addition, the clinic provides preventative health services, such as flu vaccines. In fact, the clinic provides free flu vaccines for any homeless person in the area. The volunteer optometrists provide free eye exams to residents and provide hundreds of pairs of free eyeglasses each year.
An Unending Mission
Dr. Davenport sees UGM-TC’s mission as unending – and that means the need for physician volunteers at HSC will continue, as well. “We’re going to continue to have folks who are homeless, people who need help,” he says. When the new Texas Christian University and University of North Texas Health Science Center Medical School opens, Dr. Davenport sees great opportunity for medical students and residents to help give back at the Healing Shepherd Clinic. And he hopes that more doctors will discover the clinic as a rewarding and meaningful place to help people.
“It’s important to give back to folks,” Dr. Davenport says simply. “For doctors, we can do some good with no strings attached.”
For the residents of Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County, Dr. Alan Davenport has been giving a lot back for a long time.