Sister Marie Therese Solomon, a native of Trinidad, is the Founder and Executive Director of the Lestonnac Free Medical and Dental Clinic in Orange, CA. After a long tenure as a missionary in Brazil and Africa and a teacher of music and French in California, the nun decided not to devote her retirement to personal interests. Instead of focusing on her talents as a poet, painter, pianist, and composer, she opened up the free medical clinic after witnessing the suffering of those who had no money for medical care. When she founded the clinic in 1979, it was a tiny, one room facility set up to administer free care to children with minor health needs. Under Sister Marie Therese’s leadership it has grown to a full-scale medical facility with an entirely volunteer staff of doctors, dentists and nurses to help the needy free of charge. Along with recruiting physicians to volunteer their time, she also founded the Clinic’s Women’s Guild, an organization that raises funds for the nonprofit clinic.
The nondenominational clinic offers services that include x-rays, medical lab work, mammograms, dental care, and free medicine from an in-clinic pharmacy. Surgeons are among the corps of volunteers as well, operating on everything from breast cancer to hernias to cataracts. Sister Marie also recognized the need for health education, particularly for diabetics, who form a large percentage of the clinic’s patients, as do children. Education in areas such as diabetes prevention, pre/post-natal care, and nutrition, along with psychological counseling are also services provided by the clinic.
Lacking any medical training herself, Sister Marie offers the patients a healing of a different kind. She speaks to the patients individually, offering them love and compassion to lift their spirits and let them know they matter, improving their overall sense of well-being.
The clinic operates six days a week including Saturday, serving more than 6,000 of Orange County’s poor each year. There are approximately two dozen doctors that include primary doctors, specialists, and dentists; and about two dozen nurses that volunteer their time along with the non-medical volunteer staff.
The recipients of the volunteers’ good will are individuals and families who don’t qualify for government provided health care and those who have exhausted their other health care options. Illegal aliens who are frightened to request health care services from the government, in fear of being deported, are also often treated at the clinic.
The establishment of the Clinic’s Women’s Guild has further broadened the outreach of the clinic’s services. In addition to organizing fundraisers for the clinic, the volunteers of the Guild collect and distribute food and clothing to the impoverished and homeless year round, organize a Thanksgiving party for poor families and organize a Christmas party for hundreds of poor children, giving out toys and meals.
Funding for the clinic (in addition to the clinic’s own fundraisers) comes primarily from private donations and grants.