Nurse practitioner with not-for-profit clinic in Detroit church expands to COVID-19 vaccines

Lorie Turner is using her entrepreneurial experience and 30-year nursing career to get vulnerable Detroiters on the east side vaccinated for COVID-19.

The 57-year-old nurse practitioner opened a not-for-profit medical clinic called God’s Path Community Services in September — a life decision made after her husband nearly died of COVID-19. She’s using the site to serve unmet needs of nearby residents, like managing hypertension and diabetes or getting a coronavirus test.

A big part of Turner’s self-financed mission is vaccinating Detroiters.The small clinic, with an intake room, office, lab and single exam room, is inside Lemay Church of Christ at 2500 Lemay St., just east of the Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Turner has five employees, including 22-year-old daughter Samantha Turner.

News of the vaccination event at God’s Path spread rapidly on social media, and Lorie Turner estimated 500-600 people called or texted trying to get an appointment since they opened registration two weeks ago, from as far away as Lansing.

“The information spread like wildfire. Suddenly we were getting calls from all over the state,” Samantha Turner said. “We unfortunately had to turn a lot of people away.”

God’s Path’s pop-up vaccine drive is among the first such event put on by the health department. The city is talking with community organizations that can generate lists of vulnerable populations who may not be able to get to the main city vaccination site at the TCF Center garage downtown, Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair said. Detroit is using employed epidemiologists to target neighborhoods hit hard by the coronavirus and with older populations.

“We have the TCF Center … but this is public health and public health works when we go out into the community,” Fair said. “This is just one of the ways we’re going to get shots in arms.”

The city is also expanding its Senior Saturday vaccination events to four churches a weekend. It started last weekend at Fellowship Chapel and Second Ebenezer churches. Fair said whether or not God’s Path gets another vaccination event like this one is “based upon demand.”

“They know we’re in a very impoverished area,” Lorie Turner said. “It used to be a thriving neighborhood …”

The Turners said that around 70 percent of those getting vaccinated at the clinic’s event are Detroit residents. The other 30 percent are Turner’s patients or their family members, such as older Black suburban residents who once lived in the city.

God’s Path, a 502 nonprofit corporation, had applied through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to become a certified vaccine distributor. It bought a $2,000 refrigerator to store them. But it’s been taking a while, Turner said, and the Detroit Health Department event gives them a way to get vaccinations out while they wait to be able to do it themselves.

“Everyone who wants this vaccine, in my opinion, should get it,” Turner said. “Because we have people who don’t want it, that is a personal choice, at this point, I get it. Especially in the African American community, I understand. However, we’ve been doing a lot of education with our patients and communities (about the vaccine). A lot of people do trust us …”

The nurse practitioner wants to get more Black people vaccinated. Just 5 percent of vaccinations have gone to Black Americans so far, according to CDC data analyzed by Politico.

These disparities are part of the system that drove Turner to use half of her savings to open a clinic inside her longtime church.

When Turner’s husband became seriously ill with COVID-19, she said that after some initial tests at an emergency center they were sent home and told not to come back even if he got worse — an experience she said was “shocking” and changed her perspective. She spent eight weeks caring for him at their home.

“Even though we can’t blame any hospital for this pandemic, it’s the compassion and the lack of empathy and just, you know, some people get better treatment than others, and that’s just not fair,” she said.

Turner saw healthcare disparities for poor communities and communities of color while working as a nurse in the suburbs and Detroit. She spent nearly 17 years with Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System and ran her own business for around eight years, a contractual nursing agency called Trauma Nurses. So, she decided to do something.

Turner spent $70,000 getting God’s Path up and running, from equipment and licensing to employees. It performs physicals, provides education and management assistance on chronic conditions like diabetes, draws blood for tests, prescribes and gives out some medications and does sexually transmitted infections checks, among other services. It has had around 100 patients so far, some virtual. If people have insurance, God’s Path takes it. If not, Turner said, she’ll make an arrangement, like charging small fees or waive them.

Turner knows that’s not the financially savvy way to go; she’s financing this operation. But the clinic doesn’t pay rent, courtesy of the church to which the Turners belong, and Pastor Robert Clark Jr. said Turner’s clinic fit with Clark’s goals to get the community more services.

“It’s a blessing she had the idea, she had the resources to do it,” Clark said. “She’s a perfectionist, so it’s not going to be a half job. It’s going to be done right.”

Turner also devotes half of her paycheck from working at a CVS MinuteClinic to the cause. She hopes to bring in more patients.The nonprofit also needs to raise about $250,000 to expand the clinic further into Lemay Church, adding more staff, three more exam rooms and an employee lounge.

“If you’re not going to be here for the people in need, what are you here for?” she said.


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