As Earlene Roshell Baker had lotion rubbed on her feet at Chattanooga Community Kitchen earlier this week, she practically cooed.
“Girl, that feels so good,” she said.
Ms. Baker was one of 11 homeless clients that day of the agency’s weekly foot-care ministry.
The ministry was started more than five years ago and continues to be run by Brother Ron Fender, a member of the Episcopal Brotherhood of St. Gregory and the Community Kitchen’s outreach case manager.
The Chattanooga Surgery Center has offered to write off the time for foot surgery Dr. Chris Segler will do on outpatient homeless clients who don’t have insurance, the Chattanooga podiatrist said. Essentially, he said, they will be getting their surgery for free. “That’s a generous thing,” Dr. Segler said.
Now, Chattanooga podiatrist Dr. Chris Segler, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga nursing instructor Lisa Muirhead and UTC nursing students will partner in the duties each week, offering the same human touch but also medical care and referrals for those clients with more serious issues.
“There’s a great need (of assistance) for people that need care for their feet,” said Dr. Segler, “particularly people who walk all day long oftentimes in ill-fitting or completely worn-out shoes.”
The podiatrist, a Chattanooga native, first began volunteering at the agency about two years ago after hearing a presentation by Mr. Fender at Church of the Good Shepherd-Episcopal. He recently changed his practice hours at the Ankle & Foot Center of Chattanooga to accommodate the additional treatment.
Dr. Segler, who worked with homeless populations in Houston and San Francisco during his medical training, said foot care is often neglected by homeless people. Offering more extensive medical care, he said, may keep them from getting lost or disappearing.
Charlie Hughes, executive director of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, said the foot-care ministry helps identify medical problems and gives clients a sense that someone cares about them. The ministry has been important in breaking down barriers with the homeless, he said.
“Once we develop a relationship (with an individual), we can talk about other things,” he said.
The ministry has become so important, Community Kitchen officials said, that it will be given a dedicated and expanded area in the agency’s day-center expansion.
The new space “will be a huge leap for us,” Mr. Fender said. “I think Chattanooga should be very proud of that because ... there are very few cities with actual foot-care centers for the homeless.”
He said the ministry has served as many as 20 people a day. His services traditionally have included washing, massaging and inspecting the feet.
ON THEIR FEET
As part of Dr. Chris Segler’s foot care ministry, he has begun Keeping Chattanoogans on Their Feet, a shoe collection effort that allows homeless clients to choose a new or gently used pair of running shoes following their foot examination. He said many dedicated runners often buy new running shoes every six weeks, so the old shoes are expendable but usable. “They’re generally in great condition, Dr. Segler said. “They look great, and you can still walk in them, certainly, and most of them are really high quality shoes that are very expensive.” Bins for the collection of shoes have been placed in several sites around the area.
List of sites:
* Church of the Good Shepherd, 211 Franklin Road, Lookout Mountain, Tenn.
* Signal Mountain Bible Church, 4872 Shackleford Ridge Road, Signal Mountain.
* 517-Subs, Signal Mountain Plaza Shopping Center, 1210 Taft Highway, Signal Mountain.
* Front Runner Athletics, 4251 Hixson Pike.
* Office of Dr. Luke Spiekermann, Hixson Pike Medical, 3739 Hixson Pike.
* Family And Sports Medicine, 2 Northgate Park, Suite 104.
* Fast Access Healthcare, 5622 Hwy 153, Suite E, Hixson.
* First Volunteer Bank, 5109 Hixson Pike, Hixson.
* Office of Dr. Mark Sumida, 2051-B Hamill Road, Suite 107, Hixson.
* Lakeside Medical Center, 4626 Highway 58.
* Chattanooga Primary Care, 1017 Executive Drive, Hixson.
* Signal Mountain Pediatrics, 1303 Taft Highway, Signal Mountain.
* Chattanooga Track Club (donation boxes at CTC events). http://www.chattanoogatrackclub.org/
* Chattanooga Community Kitchen, 727 E. 11th St.
“You know, when I came, it was me and a bucket,” Mr. Fender said.
Among the first people to be examined last week was Ron Bettis, a diabetic who had been seen by the St. Gregory brother since he began the ministry.
Although he nearly lost a toe a year ago because of his disease, the client’s feet were healthy when a UTC student nurse looked at them.
Mr. Fender said agency officials weren’t sure how the foot ministry would be embraced when he began it. The homeless clients showed immediately appreciation, he said, and agency officials and the public were soon on board.
“It touches people,” he said. “Everybody can relate.”
The ministry’s partnership with the UTC nursing program grew out of a homelessness unit created for the community nursing class, Ms. Muirhead said. As part of the unit, Mr. Fender was invited to speak at a forum at the university.
Then, in May, registered nurses who were getting their bachelor’s degree took on foot ministry as a complement to what the Episcopal brother was doing, she said.
In addition, Ms. Muirhead, as part of her doctoral program with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, hopes to create an integrated best practices model, with health solutions to disease prevention, of foot care for the homeless.
“Our students have really jumped into this effort,” she said, “and hopefully we can champion this cause with a best practices model.”
The partnership among the Community Kitchen, UTC and Dr. Segler is important, Ms. Muirhead said, “so we can build an infrastructure that can continue ... access to health care combined with high quality care.”
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...