When asked what her favorite part of her job as CEO of Cass Family Clinic Network is, Mary Middleton does not hesitate.
“I get to tell the story.”
The story of her own journey with Cass Family Clinic Network began in 1981, but the story of the family clinic started with humble beginnings of a private practice in 1964. What began as a small facility with two doctors seeing patients eventually evolved into a rural health clinic that is known today as the Cass Family Clinic Network, employing more than 100 people with locations in Cassopolis and Niles.
“I always like to remember how we got started, the people who made this all possible,” she says. “It really was the community acting in a “build it and they will come” mentality. Everything that we are today is because of this community’s efforts.”
CFCN constructed a building first, then looked for doctors, and eventually evolved into a federally qualified health center. Mary’s position as chief executive officer of the CFCN keeps her busy with program oversight, planning and problem-solving.
When Mary started at the office, it was still a private practice. She continued working there as she earned her associate’s degree and eventually her bachelor’s degree, adapting and changing as a person alongside the clinic where she has spent her entire professional life.
While the original focus of the facility was medical care, over the years CFCN’s services have grown to include pharmacy, dental and behavioral health.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” Mary says. “We provide an array of services to the community.”
Mary has been part of the clinic as long as she can remember, proudly boasting that five generations of her family have utilized the clinic’s resources.
“I’m committed to the area because it’s home,” Mary says. “You can do so much with a little money serving in this type of program.”
At the community health facility, Mary and her team see the direct result of the community’s investments, which Mary feels serves as a contrast to larger hospitals and medical care facilities.
“People have faces and lives right here, where you see the difference it makes,” Mary says. “Where do all those billions of tax dollars go? You don’t know – they have no faces. I know what it’s doing here. I see the people we are affecting. I have that connection.”
That connection is what keeps Mary at the clinic doing what she loves with the people of the community where she lives and works.
Take, for example, the outreach clinic located at Ross Beatty High School in Cassopolis, The Ranger Wellness Center. Through a grant from Health Resource and Services Administration for $350,000, CFCN opened a clinic in the former wood shop area of the high school. The clinic has a nurse practitioner and social worker on staff, and is available for the students before, during and after school.
The staff is there to help students if they are feeling ill, if they have medical questions or concerns, or if they just need someone to reach out to.
“The drug crisis that we’re all experiencing has affected this community, too. No one is immune,” Mary says. “We’ve had kids come to [the Ranger Wellness Center] and we’ve been able to help them get through some crisis, helping them prevent disastrous outcomes like suicides.”
Some of the students, Mary explains, are growing up without their parents.
“They may be incarcerated, or deceased, and they’re raising themselves, or living with grandparents,” she says.
These are the students Mary says she is grateful CFCN is able to serve. The wellness center has a “time out” room, as Mary calls it, to give the students a special place to de-stress. They can do yoga, meditate or color if they are having trouble processing an issue, and return to class with a more refreshed outlook.
In addition to overseeing the ever-expanding number of health clinics throughout southwest Michigan, the student center, a dental facility and a number of specialty clinics, Mary stays involved in her community. To say she has a lot on her plate is an understatement.
“I’m looking forward to retirement at some point, enjoying more personal time,” she says.
As hard as stepping aside will be, she says her overwhelming love of the program would ease the pain of that transition.
The legacy she leaves will be that of a program that has grown from a private doctor’s office to one that has touched the lives of many of the people in the community she calls home.
Photos by Ann Reiff