ST PAUL, Minn. — Open Cities Health Center in St. Paul is doing its part to raise awareness and provide COVID-19 testing.
The center was on the brink of closing last year, but was saved by a grant from the Fairview Foundation.
Now the center is mourning one of their own, Dr. Albasha Hume, who meant so much to them and the surrounding community. He died weeks after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Summer Johnson is the Chief of Strategic Development. She said Hume dedicated his life to serving others. She remembers the last time she saw him in person.
“We came into the clinic to get masks for testing on May 12. I met him that day at the clinic. It was so great to see him,” she said. “That night he went into the hospital because he wasn't feeling well. That was a Wednesday night. By Monday morning he FaceTime'ed me on oxygen and you could tell he was rapidly declining. By Tuesday he was on a ventilator and never came off of it.”
Johnson said Hume, who also volunteered with Health Fair 11, was part of a team working from home since March. Open cities serves people despite their pay and insurance status.
Hume, who is not a medical doctor but has a PhD, is from Tanzania. His wish was to be buried back in his home country.
Friends and family have created a GoFundMe account to make that wish a reality.
Dr. Kate Hollenback is an optometrist with Open Cities, and Anna Flowers is the optometrist assistant who also serves as a translator for patients who speak Spanish. Together, the two are a perfect match. But even the best relationships are tested.
“I feel like once things go back to normal and he doesn't show up it's going to feel real to me,” Dr. Kate said. “It will be strange not seeing him everyday. He did so many things for the clinic.”
The duo says COVID-19 altered their lives. They are now responsible for calling patients and delivering negative or positive results linked to the virus.
Despite the reduction of hours, the two said they spend their Saturdays delivering news to give patients peace of mind.
“It is sad to talk to people telling them they are positive,” Dr. Kate said. “I tell this woman that she's negative and she screams 'praise Jesus' and I don't know if someone was around her, she screams 'I'm negative.'
It just made me smile. Everyone is just waiting for that relief to know that are not in danger.”
Flowers has been on the other end of bad news. She said her patients are like family, some of whom she has known for years. She said she knew something was wrong when her client did show up for an appointment.
“One of the sweetest patients I had a phone call with and she tells me,
‘Just wanted to let you guys know that my husband passed away and I'm like what happened?
Turned out the whole family had COVID,” Flowers said. “I was an interpreter for her husband too. I look at them as patient parents. Like your mom and dad but you only see them for appointments.”
Despite the pain, Dr. Kate and Flowers are trying to find joy on their journey.
Open Cities offers free COVID-19 drive thru testing Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“We've had a couple of patients be like, “Yes, I am negative
I can go see grandma,” Flowers said.
Flowers and Dr. Kate enjoy delivering news that leads to a smile their mask can't hide.