Martin Luther King Clinic
Providing health care for the needy
Dr. Robert Jackson was recently named a Champion of Louisiana by the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation. The group designates a Champion of Louisiana as a person who serves out of love for Louisiana, its people and its future in contributing to the local economy, health and wellness, safety education, preservation or other initiatives. In its statement in making the award, LWC said, “Dr. Robert Jackson is on a mission to improve health care for Louisiana, ensuring the most vulnerable in his community have access to the medical care they need.”
318 Forum contacted Dr. Jackson to get his reaction to the recognition, but he quickly turned the conversation to the work of the in Ledbetter Heights. “I just call it the clinic because it’s been a part of my life for a long time,” he said.
Jackson is a native north Louisianan who went to medical school and trained for his career in internal medicine here. While there, he realized the work LSU has done over the years to serve the community has been invaluable. “LSU has always done a great job of taking care of underprivileged folks. But the one missing thing in my mind was there was no provision for people to get medicine once they left the hospital,” Jackson noted.
He said he would frequently see people with poorly controlled high blood pressure and diabetes in his clinic or the emergency room. “[It] would have been easily controlled if they could buy their medicine, but they couldn’t afford to buy their medicine.”
In early 1985, Jackson met with the late Sister Margaret McCaffery at her Hospitality House in Ledbetter Heights to discuss his concerns. Sr. Margaret suggested that they find a way to find free medicine for the needy.
Joining forces with Sr. Margaret, Lucy Morgan and Mavice Wallette, they started the Martin Luther King Clinic in the dining room of Hospitality House once a week on Saturdays beginning in November of 1985. At first, Jackson said, “I went around to all the clinics at LSU to round up tons of sample medicines to give out.” Eventually, Sr. Margaret made arrangements with Schumpert Medical Center’s pharmacy to provide the needed pharmaceuticals.
Jackson said the first couple of years were rocky, but they managed to keep afloat. The clinic was incorporated as a non-profit in 1986. By 1989, Sr. Margaret had helped raise enough money to build a free-standing clinic on Sprague Street to house the program.
In the early 2000s, Jackson said Janet Mentesane was named the new executive director for the clinic and has brought a talent for fundraising to the clinic. “She has been absolutely amazing. We are entirely supported by grants and philanthropic contributions. She’s managed to dramatically improve our funding,” Jackson said.
He said the clinic has developed into a full-service clinic over the years and has established cooperative agreements with the other health-care providers and educators in the area to continue to serve the community.
Jackson is quick to deflect any accolades from himself to the staff and volunteers who make the clinic work. “I just kind of fell into it, I guess. I didn’t have any grand plan in mind, and I had no idea that it would develop like this. It was kind of like I allowed myself to be led.”
He maintains that the clinic has given back to him more than he has given to it, and it has become a big part of his life and a source of enjoyment. He said it is truly rewarding to work with and help people one-on-one in the clinic.
Looking to the future, Jackson said he would hope the cooperative endeavors the clinic has forged will stay strong and continue to grow and the philanthropic giving that has made the facility’s continued efforts possible. The clinic continues to serve patients who haven’t the resources to get health-care and pharmacy services. It reportedly provides over $16 million in assistance to over 1,700 patients each year.
“There are so many people that have helped up over the years, some of whom have already passed away, that I can’t really name them all,” Jackson said. “But I can tell them that they know who they are. All of us at MLK, myself, my clinic staff and our patients are eternally grateful for their care and giving.”
And for a young doctor who had a desire to help.