Dr. Don Bouchard
Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan
Health care is more than just medicine.
Meet the Catholic doctor treating body, soul,
and spirit in Michigan.
For Deacon Dr. Don Bouchard, there’s a difference between practicing medicine and delivering health care.
In fact, the two are so distinct to him that after 20 years as a physician in private practice, Bouchard, a deacon with the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan, quit his job and founded Holy Family Healthcare (HFH), a non-profit dedicated to caring for body, mind and spirit.
With advanced degrees in both business and medicine, Bouchard believes that true health care goes beyond curing sicknesses and tending to injuries—health care is ensuring physical, mental and spiritual needs are met.
The staff at Holy Family Healthcare look not just to medical journals, but to the Works of Mercy to guide their approach, providing care to all who walk through the clinic doors.
In the middle of rural Michigan, this includes seasonal and migrant workers who are isolated, typically lack transportation from the fields into town, and often neglect their own health care needs. Bouchard started HFH with a few colleagues in 2014 as a mobile health center, visiting patients in migrant camps.
In 2018, with 11 staff members, the organization handled 9,000 patient visits for pediatric, adult, counseling, and women’s health, often providing services at no cost to migrant and low-income families. No one is ever turned away for lack of identification or ability to pay.
In the 5 years since the organization’s founding, HFH has expanded to two offices in Kalamazoo and Hartford.
“We get to treat people the way we're supposed to. You're accepting and you're loving them and you address their needs. That's really the most exciting part.”
Addressing the needs of marginalized communities means going beyond medicine.
HFH operates the largest food pantry in Allegan County, one of the nine counties in southwest Michigan that comprise the Diocese of Kalamazoo. The food pantry served over 1,000 families, with more than 3,500 individuals purchasing more than 150,000 pounds of food.
HFH also offers clothing to men, women and children at no cost through its Closet of Beatitudes—“Bea’s Closet” for short. Services like these provide clothes, and through the clothes they offer dignity.
The reactions that families have to these services stick with Bouchard. He recalled a woman named Minerva, a mother of seven, and a cousin and aunt to countless more, who often came to Bea’s Closet to pick up clothes for the children.
One day, after a big donation came in, Bouchard told Minerva to take some clothes for herself.
The next time Bouchard saw Minerva there was something different about her. She stood with her back straight and her shoulders back—and was wearing a new blouse she had picked up from Bea’s Closet.
“I mean, that's health care,” Bouchard said.
Impacting a community
Bouchard and the HFH staff still reach out to communities in need. At least two times each week during the summer, the HFH staff travel to migrant fields to hand out sports drinks. For migrant farmers working up to twelve hours a day under the hot summer sun, Bouchard says the drinks are a relief and a message: “We appreciate that you're here and this is the least we can do.”
For Sandra Franco, director of outreach and interpreter for HFH, the work she does hits close to home.
Franco is a first generation American. Her parents were born in Mexico and moved to the United States, where she was born. She grew up in the fields beside her parents, picking blueberries and strawberries. She knows the impact of her work.
“It's helping me show my children a better way of life for other people,” she said.
The walls inside the clinic are covered in the painted handprints of children who have visited. When the clinic first opened, the handprints were few and scattered. Now, the handprints are beginning to overlap because the wall is so full of them. For Teresa Bouchard, Bouchard's wife and a registered nurse, the wall is a visible representation of how the migrant families have impacted HFH.
“It symbolizes that we're not individuals, we're not doing it alone, but we're all part of God's family,” she said.
HFH established La Escuela Familia to bring Hispanic families together for education in both faith and culture. Seventeen children received a full Catholic education (including uniforms, lunches, and tuition).
Bouchard not only addresses medical needs of those he meets, he also works with entire families to integrate prayer into their lives, eliminate distractions and proactively address potential warning signs of addiction. During migrant camp season he reaches out to migrants to provide opportunities to attend Mass as well as to take advantage of medical services that are provided through mobile units the staff uses to travel to those in need.
Treating the children of God
Bouchard emphasizes to his staff that each patient they serve belongs to God. He recognizes that something very special happens in the care they give their patients.
“You may know the people from the community. You may know what they do and what they don't do and who they talk, who they don't talk to, but when they walked in the door, all of that disappears,” Bouchard said. “You're treating them as a child of God. You're accepting and you're loving them and you tend, you address their needs.”
When Bouchard quit his job, he and his wife sold their home and downsized. But for him, Holy Family Healthcare has become the gift that keeps on giving.
“We always get more than we give. It's just so much fun,” he said. “This has been a dream come true.”
The Lumen Christi Award is proudly presented by Catholic Extension, a non-profit that
provides grants to build the Catholic faith in the poorest areas of the United States.