A major expansion and renovation of the Clear Choice Clinic in Kalispell, Mont., is the latest chapter of a nonprofit ministry that began 17 years ago as a small pregnancy resource center.
Hope Pregnancy Ministries opened the medical clinic in 2007 to provide free pregnancy diagnosis and nursing consultations. It operates Hope Family Resource Center as a related program for parenting education and support.
When Clear Choice Clinic added free and low-cost testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and infections in 2013, the clinic staff saw its patient load more than double over two years, said Michelle Reimer, executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries. These days 40 percent of Clear Choice’s patients are men. All office visits for both men and women are free.
The ministry has expanded in other ways too. With the addition of a new conference room within the 1,000-square-foot expansion of the clinic, the ministry can now offer on-site training for other similar nonprofit clinics.
Clear Choice Clinic is accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, which means it meets or exceeds nationally recognized standards for quality of care and patient safety.
The clinic is now a clinical site for third-year nursing students at Montana State University.
“MSU came to us and said ‘we’d love for you to be a clinical site for rotations,’” said Reimer, who is a licensed practical nurse. “This is our first opportunity to teach.”
Eight nursing students will complete a pediatric rotation over the next couple of months.
Another outreach that materialized a year ago was a connection with the neonatal intensive care unit at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Reimer said Clear Choice was asked to help educate parents before they bring their tiny premature babies home. The clinic now has a nurse with previous NICU experience who volunteers her time at the hospital.
The growth of Hope Pregnancy Ministries has been gratifying for a corps of staff members and volunteers who are dedicated to providing life-affirming reproductive health-care services with the realization that not all of the pregnant women they serve will choose to keep their baby.
Last year the clinic saw 60 women who were considering or planning to have an abortion.
“Of those, we can confirm that 23 chose to carry to term,” Reimer said. “Some outcomes are unknown, as it can be very difficult to track, and some may have left here abortion-minded, but changed their decision at a later date. It can be very hard to follow up with these women, although we do try.”
In the past year the clinic has served 733 men and women. Since it opened nine years ago at 1281 Burns Way, Clear Choice has served more than 4,000 people.
The underlying current that sustains the clinic’s mission is a nonjudgmental approach that gives a patient all the information needed to make a decision.
“Our job is to educate and encourage women to make a decision they can live with,” Reimer said. “In the end, if she chooses abortion, that’s her choice. We work hard to make sure women don’t feel pressured into one choice over another.”
Hope Pregnancy Ministries is faith-based, but there’s no overt proselytizing by clinic staff or volunteers.
“Their world view doesn’t have to be the same as ours,” Reimer said. “Just because I’m pro-life doesn’t mean I push it on patients. We’re walking in God’s love for our neighbors. We’re doing this in a practical way, and not expecting anything in return.”
Tweet This: "We work hard to make sure women don't feel pressured." #pregnancyhelp #prolife
The clinic’s pragmatic approach provides free pregnancy testing and an ultrasound, along with counseling about all options. That means women “learn the good, bad and ugly,” Reimer said.
Clear Choice Clinic doesn’t do abortion referrals, “but it’s a woman’s right to know about abortion,” she added.
For parents who choose to carry their baby to term, Hope Family Resource Center, located at 940 First Ave. E. in Kalispell, is ready to help with education and resources.
At the resource center, “we’re very encouraging of including faith in how to build a family,” Reimer said. “The faith part is a part of who we are and it’s our responsibility to include the faith journey as a question. If the answer is yes, then we talk about it. If it’s no, then we move on and don’t push our faith on them.”
Adding free and low-cost testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and infections was a way for the ministry to be proactive in its approach to reproductive health. After the clinic staff received special training in Joplin, Missouri, in how to implement the STD program, they contemplated how to “pay it forward” and started training other nonprofit clinic staffs within Montana on how to set up their own STD testing programs. Clinics in other states have also signed on for training.
The laboratory testing needed to diagnose STDs is a financial commitment, Reimer pointed out. The clinic collaborates with Kalispell Regional to get competitive costs on lab tests, and if a patient is treated for several subsequent sexually transmitted infections the clinic charges a nominal fee.
“We don’t make a dime,” she said.
Having discussions about abstinence and encouraging lifestyle change for both men and women is another parameter of the overall discussion.
“If that prevents an unwanted pregnancy — that’s huge,” Reimer said. “We want to eliminate heartache for people.”
Hope Pregnancy Ministries gets financial support from 60 churches and “a whole bunch of individuals,” she said. The ministry bought the clinic building nine years ago and paid it off five years ago.
The renovation and expansion was done largely with in-kind donations of materials and either donated or reduced-rate contractor work.
“We’re really careful with donors’ money,” Reimer stressed, adding that the ministry doesn’t take state or federal funding.
Volunteers help support a staff of nine, which includes Dr. John Lavin as medical director of Clear Choice Clinic.
A binder full of patient comments affirm the clinic is serving a crucial need in the community.
“I’ve never felt this cared for,” one woman wrote. Another patient pointed out how they “didn’t judge me.”
Reimer said that kind of feedback reflects the mission.
“We’re not here to judge. We walk people through the most difficult situation in their lives,” she said, adding a favorite quote from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
Article originally appeared Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 at DailyInterLake.com. Republished with permission.