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25th anniversary marks uncertain 'turning point' for free health care clinic in Oklahoma City

Patients wait inside the hallway of the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City earlier this year. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Patients wait inside the hallway of the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City earlier this year. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

By 8 a.m. on any given Saturday, dozens of individuals have already made their way to the Manos Juntas clinic.The Oklahoma City-based health care clinic, which operates out of a local church but offices at 1330 N Classen, offers basic, primary care and prescription medications for free to all who come.

But resources are limited, so potential patients have just a small window Saturday mornings to sign in to receive same-day services. Over 100 individuals will be inside filling out paperwork, sitting with sick family members, waiting to get their blood pressure checked or pick up medications.

“It’s a good place for people that don’t have money. It’s a good clinic,” said Amber Alonso, who brought her two kids and sick husband to the free clinic on a recent weekend. “There are a lot of people in need right now.”

Manos Juntas, which operates through volunteers and donations, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Those involved with the clinic believe accessible health care is one of the best ways to transform a community, and they have an endless supply of patient success stories.

But the organization’s financial future is unclear.

The group’s longtime leader, Dr. Boyd Shook, had been donating his salary from his job at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, but he recently retired.

“We need more money,” Shook said. “I told the board that they’ve depended on me for 25 years, but I’m not working at OU anymore, and I don’t have the income that I used to have. So if you want this organization to exist, you have to find some people able to help financially.”

'We need everybody'

Shook, who has decades of experience in medicine, started Manos Juntas after he and his daughter went on a mission trip to Nicaragua in 1994.

“We thought it would be eight to 10 patients every Saturday,” he said with a chuckle. “We were very wrong about that.”

Through the years, the clinic has offered care to over 20,000 individuals, and Shook still leads mission trips back to Nicaragua, executive director Kris Barnes said.

And it's all accomplished with a staff of just a few individuals. Except for two Saturdays a year when the clinic is closed, Shook is there to serve patients (that’s over 1,200 Saturdays in 25 years).

Shook’s relationships within the medical community have helped the clinic remain free for patients while still offering important services.

He struck deals with a company in Tennessee to provide medications at wholesale costs, and the Diagnostic Laboratory of Oklahoma provides free lab work, which Barnes said would cost roughly $500,000 a year otherwise.

Equipment used at the clinic has been donated, and referrals for additional screenings or tests can sometimes be pushed through more quickly when Shook is involved.

About 650 unique volunteers serve each year, ranging from physicians to medical students to language students wanting to practice translating to high schoolers curious about health care, Barnes said.

“We need everybody,” she added.

Anoushka Mullasseril has volunteered at the clinic for roughly nine months.

She said her parents heard her mention the clinic and its need for funding repeatedly, so they agreed to donate funds.

Shook believes one crucial aspect of the clinic is the opportunity to train future doctors. He said students like Mullasseril will help to improve health care in the future. She’ll attend OU’s medical school this year.

“It is really hard for people to access health care,” Mullasseril said. “So I think this clinic is doing a really big thing for Oklahoma … . It has really inspired me to do all that I can, when I become a doctor, for people in need.”

Challenges ahead

Manos Juntas’ annual budget is just around $180,000, Barnes said. But with Shook’s recent retirement, about $100,000 of once-stable revenue for the organization is no longer available.

“My house and car was paid for, and I enjoy working and taking care of patients and teaching medical students, so it wasn’t a problem,” Shook said of donating his salary. “But it is a turning point for the clinic.”

The clinic currently has a fund with the Oklahoma City Community Foundation that has about $250,000, Barnes said. But it would take roughly $5 million for dividends in the fund to equal the current annual operating expenses.

But filling the hole left by Shook’s retirement is just the beginning for Barnes.

With an overall larger yearly budget, the clinic could create a medication-delivery service or get its own building so hours could expand or so the clinic could offer specialized medical care from seasoned doctors willing to donate their time.

“Up and coming medical students could shadow doctors with decades of experience and knowledge, so it’d be a win-win,” Barnes said.

“For me, it is about remembering basic humanity. There is a very fine line that separates people who have and people who don’t. Most people in America flirt with that line every day.”

Until then, Shook said he will help the board continue searching for potential donors.

“I don’t think my work is complete,” he said. “I think I still have some things I have to do … . My ultimate dream is to be able to change how health care is done. And I see the future in my students.”

Related Photos
<strong>Dr. Boyd Shook talks with student volunteers Day Seo, left, and Joanna Yoon talk with a patient inside the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 18.  [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Dr. Boyd Shook talks with student volunteers Day Seo, left, and Joanna Yoon talk with a patient inside the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 18. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-783bb3f52573ef9060a3809310ba69a1.jpg" alt="Photo - Dr. Boyd Shook talks with student volunteers Day Seo, left, and Joanna Yoon talk with a patient inside the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 18. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Dr. Boyd Shook talks with student volunteers Day Seo, left, and Joanna Yoon talk with a patient inside the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 18. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Dr. Boyd Shook talks with student volunteers Day Seo, left, and Joanna Yoon talk with a patient inside the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 18. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9e8b5066782d2fd5ac66529b8f6f2c51.jpg" alt="Photo - Volunteer Anoushka Mullasseril holds a patient's file inside the Manos Juntas clinic. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Volunteer Anoushka Mullasseril holds a patient's file inside the Manos Juntas clinic. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Volunteer Anoushka Mullasseril holds a patient's file inside the Manos Juntas clinic. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0aa859c3f105f4aefe3242f10c2199da.jpg" alt="Photo - Amber Alonso fills out paperwork for her husband as she checks in at the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City last month. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Amber Alonso fills out paperwork for her husband as she checks in at the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City last month. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Amber Alonso fills out paperwork for her husband as she checks in at the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City last month. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6ad39e18d21b477c658e472761c4cda2.jpg" alt="Photo - Executive Director for Manos Juntas, Kris Barnes, opens the doors to the pharmacy storage area inside the clinic. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Executive Director for Manos Juntas, Kris Barnes, opens the doors to the pharmacy storage area inside the clinic. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Executive Director for Manos Juntas, Kris Barnes, opens the doors to the pharmacy storage area inside the clinic. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7c8af7654ee61cb373295c134d549de5.jpg" alt="Photo - Patients wait inside the hallway of the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City earlier this year. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Patients wait inside the hallway of the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City earlier this year. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Patients wait inside the hallway of the Manos Juntas clinic in Oklahoma City earlier this year. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Kayla Branch

Kayla Branch covers county government and poverty for The Oklahoman. Branch is a native Oklahoman and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She joined The Oklahoman staff in April 2019. Read more ›

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