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Compassionate Care in a Large Package

by Dan McCullough

In 1988, Susan Duenas, a nurse working for the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod, together with Doctor Arthur Bickford, a member of the medical staff of Cape Cod Hospital, and Herbert Mathewson, another doctor at the hospital started dispensing basic first aid, antibiotics, medical advice and clean, dry socks out of a closet in the NOAH homeless shelter in Hyannis. The program grew into a small everyday clinic. Early staff included nurse practitioner and staff leader Judy Best, Tom and Rick Brigham, Cindy Glista, Arlene Crosby and others. In time, the clinic moved over to Park Square near the hospital with the help of a generous donation in memory of Florence and Mary Duffy, and soon the clinic had morphed into The Duffy Health Center, a complex multi-service facility.

All this development was cap-stoned three years ago by the completion of Duffy’s multi-million-dollar new 14,000 square-foot, three-story building on Main Street in Hyannis around the corner from the hospital. The new facility has 13 examination rooms, private conference rooms, loads of office space all coordinated to provide primary medical care, mental health services, substance abuse counseling and case management support.

This all sounds very wonderful, but many of us who worked at the old O’Neil Clinic back at the NOAH Shelter those decades ago, in that tiny little cramped space (“the clinic in a closet” we used to call it when talking among ourselves) – many of us were concerned that something very important might be lost in moving from a clinic the size of my living room to a building with ten times the square footage of my house. Would the transition from a small “mom & pop” operation with a half-dozen staff, have the same qualities of personal care, attention and compassion of patient care in a facility with dozens of people in dozens of rooms in a giant building?

An encounter this past week might answer this question for any skeptics of whether bigger was better or not.

Laurie Sexton is a 49-year-old student at Cape Cod Community College. I first met her a few years ago when she was a resident at Elise House, a women’s facility run by Homeless Not Hopeless, an agency with which I work closely. We talked and I encouraged her to go back to school. This year, she is close to getting her degree from Cape Cod Community College and closer to fulfilling her dream to someday be a professional journalist. Last year, Laurie left Elise House, finding her own independent living, and today she is on the board at Homeless Not Hopeless, helping other homeless women in need.


A week ago Friday, I got this e-mail from her:

Hello Professor McCullough, 

How are you?  I was wondering if you knew of anyone who can give me immunizations for free.  I need them to stay in school and if I don't get them I can't come back not even for summer courses.  I have been sending my resume out and applying to many different positions. If I don't stay in school to get my degree I will never get out of this way of life of poverty.  I know this. I have been struggling and now I only have two more weeks so I don't want to withdraw.....I have very good grades in my classes..... A's and B's.  Thank you for taking the time to read this and hope to hear from you soon.

Laurie (former resident of the Elise House)


I wrote back the same day:


Go to Duffy Health Center on Monday and then e-mail me back immediately with all the details (what time you were there, who you spoke to, etc...)



On Monday afternoon she wrote back:

Hello Professor Mccullough,

How are you?  I went to Duffy today and they are going to help me, they found my insurance and are going to help me switch back to MassHealth now that I have no income coming in. They also gave me some food to take back to my house.  I get a blood test tomorrow to see if I am immune to anything and if so I won't need my immunizations and can give that to the college so I can continue my education.  However, if the blood test reveals that I do need immunizations they will help me get them.  Thank You very much.  They are going to help me with my rent also. I have applied to several jobs so hopefully I will get one of them.

Again thank you

Hope to hear from you soon



When Laurie first appeared at Duffy on Monday, she was seen by Arlene Crosby (from the original O’Neil Clinic). Arlene delivered her to Eryn, an R.N. and Jodie, a case worker. They gave her all their attention as they went over Laurie’s options. She was amazed at the love and compassion these three women showed for her, a stranger who had just walked in from the street. On Tuesday, she was seen by Doctor Wesley Klein, Duffy’s medical director and a gifted and compassionate caregiver with a deserved reputation for same. Laurie was given shots and blood tests and they told her that they would expedite the results so that if she needed more immunizations (mumps, tetanus, chicken pox, etc.), they would get them done by the end of the week.

On Wednesday, I was pulling out of a parking place at Cape Cod Community College when I spotted Laurie. I wish I had a photograph to show you the look on her face as she approached my truck. By the time she got to my rolled-down window, she had tears in her eyes as she told her story.

So, no worries about Duffy Health Center losing the personal touch of love and compassion once found in a small clinic years ago. They may be big, but nobody does it better.



Dan McCullough is a Cape Cod Times columnist. Contact him at www.danmccullough.com or write him, care of the Cape Cod Times, 319 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601.