Clinic founder inspires nursing students to be compassionate
By Daniel P. Smith For Sun-Times Media
Mentoring: Margaret Stoffregen-DeYoung (left), director of the nursing program at University of St. Francis in Crown Point, helps grad student Carol Drasga perform a simulated medical procedure on a dummy at the school's nursing facility. | Photo by Mary Compton
Every Thursday, Margaret Stoffregen-DeYoung enters familiar doors, greets familiar people, and tackles familiar work.
Yet for Stoffregen-DeYoung, the seemingly routine work is anything but that. It’s the continuation of a mission she began 15 years ago, when Stoffregen-DeYoung was appointed the first director of the then-upstart St. Clare Health Clinic in Crown Point. It’s also an in-the-flesh example for her students at the University of St. Francis (USF) Crown Point that nursing services stand near the epicenter of a sturdy health care world.
“If we’re going to move the health care needle in this country, nursing will have to play a primary role,” Stoffregen-DeYoung said.
The veteran nurse, whose 32-year nursing career includes stops in surgical, women’s health, and outpatient care, served as director of the St. Clare Clinic from its founding in 1996 until 2006, when Stoffregen-DeYoung left to oversee the nursing program at USF Crown Point. Yet even in her current position at the college, Stoffregen-DeYoung continues volunteering at the St. Clare Clinic each Thursday.
“It’s far more rewarding to see a patient be able to access X-rays or labs and get the attentive treatment they deserve,” Stoffregen-DeYoung said, adding that her decade-long stint as the clinic’s director cemented her belief in nursing’s value and offered valuable perspective as she moved into her administrative role at USF Crown Point.
Health care for all
The Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, longtime owners of the St. Anthony medical center in Crown Point, founded the St. Clare Clinic in December 1996 as a common sense solution to a growing health care predicament.
As patients flooded St. Anthony’s emergency room, hospital leaders noted an overwhelming percentage being treated for controllable issues, such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. As a Catholic facility pledging to serve all patients, the open-door policy and packed waiting room posed unique challenges.
As a means to improve the health of community members and deliver more proactive care, the Franciscan Sisters tabbed Stoffregen-DeYoung to research free clinics throughout Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. She spent six months visiting dozens of clinics, assessing business models, numbers, and best practices.
When the Franciscan Sisters decided to open the nurse-managed facility, Stoffregen-DeYoung was the natural choice as its first director and she stood eager to build the start-up operation. She was convinced health care, particularly primary preventative care, should be available to all.
“And I guess I have an affection for starting things up and a tolerance level for uncertainty and risk-taking,” Stoffregen-DeYoung said.
‘Space with a special spirit’
Under Stoffregen-DeYoung’s guidance, the clinic, which serves uninsured 18- to 64-year-old residents across five Northwest Indiana counties, grew from seeing patients on two half-days a week out of a century-old farmhouse to one operating five days a week and serving thousands annually out of more modern quarters on Indiana Avenue in Crown Point.
From the physicians and nurses to the facility’s other personnel, including pharmacists and social service agents, the clinic is staffed by dozens of volunteers and funded exclusively by the Franciscan Sisters and donations.
“Many hands make light work,” Stoffregen-DeYoung said of the clinic’s volunteer base. “It’s a joy to be there because everybody’s choosing to be there and that fills the space with a special spirit.”
Many roles of nurses
Stoffregen-DeYoung’s empowering experience at St. Clare is something she carried into her work with USF Crown Point’s nursing students.
Nurses, she said, inhabit a key position in the health care field as patient advocates, translating medical terminology into accessible terms, holdings hands, and providing treatment among the key roles they fill.
“Nursing is a big part of the answer to the health care debate in this country and we have to walk patients through a maze sometimes,” Stoffregen-DeYoung said. “If we can teach patients the basic measures and behaviors for preserving their health, we’ll be in better shape.”
Stoffregen-DeYoung said it’s important to provide students the tools they need to not only navigate the health care world, but to do so knowing they can be as caring and compassionate as necessary, something she herself continues practicing at St. Clare.
“If we can continue to educate our students at a high-quality level with the added component of Franciscan values, I believe it will be a lot easier for them to go into the world and behave with professionalism and compassion,” Stoffregen-DeYoung said.