'That’s why we are here — to lift that weight off'
"We tell them: Don’t worry about how you’re gonna pay for this because you don’t have to. Worry about taking care of yourself and your family. That’s why we are here — to lift that weight off."
Even those sworn to protect us are not immune from the realities of sickness and pain. That is why for the past 10 years, the Rochester House of Shields has been working to support law enforcement personnel traveling here for care at the Mayo Clinic.
This week, as we reflect on what we are all thankful for, it only seems fitting for us to introduce you to Officer Alex Clement of the Rochester Police Department.
When Alex is not out on patrol, he is putting time into helping his peers from other parts of the country settle into Rochester. Alex is part of a group of volunteers who make up the House of Shields program, which provides free housing for law enforcement officers and their immediate family members. The organization, which is funded entirely through donations, has three fully-furnished apartments in town. And as Alex explains, their guests are invited to stay as long as they need, whether that is six days or six months, to ensure they get the best care possible.
"I’m at a loss of words a lot of the time," Alex says of his interactions with patients. "Actually, I’m not a very emotional guy, but sometimes when you start talking with these people and you meet them; they got their 8-year-old daughter and she has some rare form of cancer. You hear their story and you think about what you have."
For Alex and other volunteers, House of Shields is a way to give back to their brothers and sisters in blue. Oftentimes, Alex says he builds relationships with the people he meets through the organization and keeps in contact with them after they leave.
"The common theme is that they have all these health issues; and why are they traveling all these hundreds of miles? Nobody can tell them what is wrong with them or how to treat them, so they come here to Mayo. They’re emotional about everything that’s going on, so they find out about our organization and they got a free place to stay. They go to their first clinic appointment at Mayo, and then three days later I check in on them and they’re like, 'the sun came up and Mayo told me what’s wrong with me.' They have a treatment plan and everything is going to be okay. They can’t believe it."
This fall, Med City Beat is teaming up with students from the University of Minnesota Rochester to document the role the community plays in the care of the nearly 3 million patients and visitors who come here each year.
Cover photo by William Forsman