By Grace Conroy, Caitlyn Jones, and Debbie Z. Harwell
From its earliest days, the administrators at the Mexican Clinic, now San José Clinic, recognized that addressing patients’ medical needs alone was not enough. An individual’s health depends on care for the whole person. It involves coordination of dental and eye care, pharmaceuticals, nutrition, physical therapy, mental health care, specialty care, and a host of ancillary services.
Inspired by the needs of Houston’s Mexican American population when it opened in 1922, the clinic dispensed medications and had dentists volunteering there as early as 1924. Within the first few years, the clinic added specialty care that included optometry. Volunteer physicians conducted eye exams and dispensed free glasses with assistance from the local National Council of Catholic Women, now the Charity Guild of Catholic Women. While early records are sparse, during the first nine months of 1937, dentists and optometrists performed 798 dental treatments and 1,202 eye examinations. Four “graduate pharmacists” filled 10,500 prescriptions, which were offered free of charge or on a sliding scale thanks to donations. In 1938, San José was the only place in Houston doing free refractions, a critical tool in diagnosing vision irregularities and assessing prescriptions for glasses. Over the decades, the clinic has moved to new and larger facilities three times, including to its current location at 2615 Fannin in 2010. It has expanded its services with the help of volunteers and partnerships with local institutions. Sometimes services have come and gone and returned again based on the availability of specialists and volunteers, but the clinic’s commitment to maximizing its patients’ overall health has never wavered.