The small women's health clinic on Montebello Drive is nondescript, as is the business plaza where it's located. The sign outside is nondescript, too: DCCS, Dream Centers of Colorado Springs.
On the typical Monday here, some volunteers handle intake, others juggle schedules. A Spanish speaker helps translate forms for a non-English speaking patient. There are no crosses on the walls, no images of Christ. DCCS' pamphlet makes no mention of its theological bent, or its relationship to New Life Church — only a quote on the back from board member Brady Boyd, its lead pastor.
Yet this is a ministry. There are business cards on the intake desk for the Life Network's local Christian pregnancy centers, which offer "free pregnancy tests and education." And then there's the Prayer Form, a half-sheet of paper with a large open field for patients to write down what they would like to pray for.
"We have a prayer team upstairs," the form reads, "that would love to pray with you in person."
Areas of need
The dream center concept debuted in Los Angeles 17 years ago, and now there are about 100 across the U.S. The centers are loosely affiliated, and not directly related other than in style and mission. In each community, they strive to fill holes in public services offered to the poor.
According to executive director Matthew Ayers, who's also local ministries pastor at New Life, his megachurch started looking for weaknesses in local services more than a year ago. For several months, an advisory team held discussions with representatives from El Paso County Public Health, local hospitals, and other free clinics and nonprofits. It found that health services for underinsured or uninsured women from 18 to 64 were lacking. He points out that Peak Vista, a nonprofit health care provider, had more than 9,000 people on its waiting list as of July.
"If you are pregnant, or have an infant, a senior citizen, homeless, there are areas like that where there are priorities for Medicaid," he says. "But if you are not, there is quite a wait to get health care."
In this economy, services for women have taken a hit. Take, for example, he says, the county's Wise for Life program. Grant-funded, it would screen women 40 to 64 for chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. But this year, that program lost its funding.
Kandi Buckland, the health department's executive director, says 57 percent of its money came from grants and contracts in 2011, with the remainder from fees, Medicaid reimbursement, county funding, and so on. Since 2002, the department has lost 45 percent of its county funding.
Having worked with many faith-based programs, county staff was happy to offer New Life guidance: "We shared our lessons learned," Buckland says. "We really wanted to make sure that they didn't duplicate services. One of the things that is unique about health care is that we have to work very closely together."
DCCS is a small operation; its budget this year, which included start-up costs, is $150,000. Ayers believes DCCS will level out next year at about $100,000. The clinic, open noon to 8 on Mondays and 9 to 5 on other weekdays, has only one paid employee.
And the place is busy. The clinic had its soft opening in June and its grand opening on Aug. 1, and already has gone from seeing about 10 patients a week to 23. Referrals are coming from the county and others, according to Michelle Laguens, DCCS' primary care provider and clinic director. As she puts it: "I think that the word is getting out."
This is the first of a number of imagined centers for Colorado Springs, says Ayers, ranging from mentor homes for the homeless and for kids who age out of foster care, to drug and alcohol rehab.
This first clinic, says Laguens, "is the launching platform."
DCCS' evangelical mission does come through in how it offers care for pregnant women. Laguens says they will not be referred to Planned Parenthood.
"We don't believe in abortion, and we will not refer for abortion," she says. If a pregnant woman is seeking medical care, she will be referred to a clinic such as Peak Vista; if she is unsure how she wants to handle her pregnancy, Laguens says, "We will provide places where they can get counseling."
One such place is the Life Network's Pregnancy Center. "I have been down there and talked with them, and they are actually willing to send up some of their staff [to DCCS] if we start getting a high number of early pregnancies, to counsel them on the options out there," she says. "And they are the best type of people to provide that counseling."
But there's a dearth of clinics to which she can refer patients needing mammograms. One of the most accessible is Planned Parenthood, which is fine by her.
"I am not going to let our ideology hang up one person here for screening for cancer," she says.
While there is prayer available at the dream center, and she is driven by her belief in Christ, she says, "We are a medical clinic first."
It is a point that Ayers stresses.
"The women's clinic is free. No sermon, no prayer — we will be there to help them with their spiritual needs, but all we are going to have them do is fill in the intake form; we'll get them a cup of coffee, and we'll take care of them."