Volunteer chiros offer free clinic for shelter patrons
By Mari-Len De
I was waiting on the front porch of an old bungalow home that’s been converted into a chiropractic office when Dr. Sandy Kunej pulled into the driveway of the Family Care Chiropractic Clinic in Brantford, Ont. Clad in a purple golf shirt and khaki pants.
He was dressed for work, but not in his private practice, which was closed for the day. He was on his way to see his patients at the homeless shelter, just a few kilometers from his office.
The Brantford Welcome In Resource Centre, located in Brantford, Ont., has been providing shelter and resources for the homeless, the under-housed and those at risk of homelessness since 2004.
“The centre believes in a ‘whole person’ approach to serving guests and works in partnership with other local agencies to ensure our guests have access to services they need to achieve personal success in overcoming life issues,” the centre’s website indicates.
Last year, it added a free chiropractic clinic to the list of services it offers, thanks to some chiropractors in the area, led by Kunej, who stepped up and made it happen.
Kunej has always wanted to find a way to give back to his community, and when the opportunity to open a free clinic at the Welcome In Resource Centre came up, Kunej immediately jumped on board and recruited several other chiropractors in the area.
With a little grant from the Ontario Chiropractic Association, and equipment donations from other DCs (including two chiropractic tables) the Welcome In chiropractic clinic opened its doors in July 2015.
In practice for 20 years, Kunej is trained in various techniques and modalities and sees a variety of patients in his private clinic – families, children, pregnant women and athletes. With the limited time and resources available, however, chiropractic care at the Welcome In clinic goes back to basics.
“We don’t have any modalities, we have simple chiropractic tables that were donated by our other colleagues here in town, and we provide chiropractic in its purest form,” Kunej says. “We check the spine for nerve interference, subluxations, and turn on people’s power – that’s the best way to describe it.”
The clinic set up is pretty basic: a desk, a couple of chairs, a filing cabinet and two chiropractic tables – certainly, not like your typical, modern chiropractic office. But for the people who come in for treatment at the Welcome In clinic, it’s been more than sufficient.
Patients under the care of the volunteer chiropractors at the shelter come back week after week, happy for the care they receive and the service that they would not have been able to afford otherwise.
“You guys are miracle workers,” Cathy Cryderman remarks to Kunej as the DC examines her chart. Cryderman is one of about half a dozen patients already lined up for their weekly chiropractic visit when we arrived at the Welcome In Centre.
The clinic is open once a week every Friday, between 1pm and 3pm, with two volunteer DCs on duty.
Conversations with the patients while on the chiropractic table can quickly go from health-related issues to their personal stories, job-hunting prospects, past and current relationships.
Connecting on a personal level makes the patients feel their doctors genuinely care about their well-being.
“The people here do great work,” Cryderman tells me. She has known Kunej – or “Dr. Sandy” for those who know him – for about four years now. She used to be a patient at his private clinic when she was working as a hairstylist. Cryderman now gets weekly chiropractic care at the Welcome In since the service opened last year.
Cryderman is among dozens of patients and Welcome In guests who take advantage of the free chiropractic clinic – many of them with challenging health conditions – and have since found some level of relief from regular chiropractic care.
“We see people from all walks of life here and we do what we do to improve their quality of life,” Kunej explains. “We decrease the amount of medications that they are depending on and just put smiles on their faces.”
Poverty and homelessness advocates often say, “Homelessness does not discriminate.” It’s also true for the patients that seek chiropractic care at the Welcome In centre. Patients come from a variety of health conditions and socio-economic backgrounds – people with mental health issues, addiction, cancer, some are university graduates and many are chronic pain sufferers.
“We’re there to make their bodies function better and give them quality of life,” he points out. “If you focus on that, you’ll have success with your patients.”
Treating people who have long been dependent on medications for pain and other health conditions is a typical scenario at the chiropractic clinic. Watching them wean off or reduce the need for medication as a result of chiropractic care is very rewarding for the volunteer doctors.
“For a lot of people, their first line of defence – right or wrong – is typically through the medical field, where they get medications to help themselves,” explains Dr. Gary Dix of Paris, Ont., who was on duty that day with Kunej.
“If we can provide a service and care to improve function without medication and, as a result, see them come off their medication or, at least reduce it, then that is fantastic.”
Although the chiropractic clinic is only open for two hours, one day a week, scheduling volunteer doctors and figuring out who’s available which day can be challenging, especially when you don’t have a big pool of volunteers to begin with. Kunej shows me an electronic calendar on his smart phone, which he says is shared with other chiropractors who volunteer at the Welcome In clinic. The calendar lets them know which schedule slots are open and which ones need to be filled. And the doctors indicate their availability based on the open slots.
Kunej counts at least eight chiropractors who have initially agreed to take turns at the clinic. If you do the math, each will only have to do one shift in a month, which Kunej points out is not a huge commitment. But that is if everybody is always able and available to volunteer once a month on a regular basis – which isn’t the case every time. He sometimes finds himself taking on two shifts a month.
He admits it’s getting increasingly challenging to recruit volunteers at this point, especially with the summer season approaching.
“We’re always looking for more healing hands and those that want to help,” Kunej says, adding this would ensure the clinic could continue to stay open and help more people.
Administrators at the Welcome In Resource Centre know exactly how the clinic has made a difference in the people who come through their doors. Many of them have little to no steady income and would not otherwise be able to afford chiropractic care outside of the centre.
Last year alone, the Welcome In centre provided shelter to some 8,400 homeless people in Brantford, Brant County and in surrounding communities. About 100 people a week come to the centre to take advantage of the resources and services offered there, explains Rien VandenEnden, executive director at the Brantford Welcome In Resource Centre.
VandenEnden hopes the clinic would continue to provide services to the Welcome In guests. He says he worries sometimes, especially when he sees the same two or three volunteer doctors coming in to work at the clinic, that it may be difficult to sustain its operations.
“If we can expand and get a few more people involved, it would certainly be a wonderful expression of the chiropractic association toward the community.”
For Dix, who has been volunteering at the Welcome In chiropractic clinic since it opened last year, it’s been a rewarding experience.
“It’s good that we have skills that can help people, so even if they can’t afford it, we should be able to help them out,” Dix says.
Recently, with shortage of available volunteers, Dix has had to come in twice a month to help out in the clinic, but he does not mind it at all.
“Personally, I think it’s our responsibility,” he says. “We take the so-called ‘oath’ to help people, and it doesn’t always have to be, ‘If they can pay.’”
In his 37 years in practice, Dix says this is the first time he’s volunteered his chiropractic expertise at a free clinic and he plans to continue to do so for as long as the clinic remains open.
Mari-Len De Guzman is the editor of Canadian Chiropractor magazine. She has been a journalist for 20 years and has been editor of several business and professional publications. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.