Coker Sturgeon, who is in his 80s, wore a big grin and a baseball cap with a Playboy insignia as he stood at the door greeting some of 200 guests at an open house celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Zacchaeus Medical Clinic on Sunday.
Sturgeon, like many patients, has become something of a fixture around Washington's only free medical clinic, visiting even when he has no medical need. Located in the basement of a run-down building at 1329 N St. NW, the clinic has peeling paint and well-worn furniture, including rusted file cabinets.
But Zacchaeus treats about 4,000 persons a year, including 700 new patients. Nine out of 10 patients have incomes of less than $4,400 a year, according to Celia Hildebrand, the clinic's fund-raiser.
Patients come from Maryland and Virginia as well as the District, and "the only people not treated are those that come in flaming drunk," Hildebrand said. Most are treated for venereal disease, hypertension and alcohol-related illnesses, along with other ailments accompanying neglect, clinic officials said. The clinic also began a prenatal clinic last year.
"One of the premises of Zacchaeus is to make people responsible for their own health care," Hildebrand said, so clinic staffers provide nutrition information and teach patients to monitor their weight and blood pressure.
But improving the nutrition and living standards of homeless and unemployed patients is not easy, so the staff tries to direct them to shelters and other social programs. The clinic's wall's are filled with notices of soup kitchens and low-cost food and clothing, but "beyond that, all we can offer is a lot of encouragement," Hildebrand said.
Created in 1974 by the combined efforts of the Community for Creative Nonviolence, Luther Place Memorial Church and the Newman Foundation at George Washington University, Zacchaeus was originally a soup kitchen. CCNV continues to operate a soup kitchen by the same name at 1522 14th St. NW.
The clinic is funded primarily by private sources, including church groups, laboratories, schools and community organizations. Luther Place provides the building rent free.
Zacchaeus has five paid staff members, including a doctor, social worker, fund-raiser and two coordinators. It is otherwise staffed by volunteers who donate about $173,000 a year in time. Twelve doctors volunteer regularly and another 45 serve as referral doctors. Nurses, midwives, medical students and others lend their services, making up a volunteer staff of nearly 100.
Dr. Dan Kimball, deputy commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and a volunteer since the clinic began, said working there "reminds you of some of the reasons you went into medicine." Nurse Annie Rohlin, who works in the clinic's prenatal program, said "It's really made a difference for me . . . now I feel like I can do something."
The lab at Zacchaeus was crowded during the open house as regular patients and visitors coming from church streamed through to have blood tests taken. Volunteer technicians explained the testing procedures and encouraged people to examine their own blood samples under the microscope.
Warm greetings and laughter among friends and beneficiaries of the clinic over brownies and cookies seemed to brighten the atmosphere of the clinic's basement home.