The Hope of Pro-Compassionate Care
A nonprofit pregnancy clinic serves thousands of patients diagnosing pregnancy, treating STDs, and providing families with material goods, all done with a pro-compassion mindset.
About seven years ago, Hope Pregnancy Ministries rebranded the way they talked about the top-notch medical and educational services they offer to the community in Kalispell, Montana. The shift took them from dubbing themselves as pro-life to pro-compassion.
“We are pro-life, but more strongly we are pro-compassion,” said Michelle Reimer, executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries. “If you are pro-life then you really focus on the baby and tend to forget about the dad, the mom, the parents, the siblings, and the ripple effect that happens when a baby is lost.”
The focus on pro-compassion places the value of life on tiny, preborn life as well as on the mother. “If we are pro-compassion we don’t turn our back on the mother, whatever choice she makes. We don’t leave her,” Reimer said. “They may come expecting a finger wagged at them and we are here to say they are loved, they matter.”
Hope Pregnancy Ministries offers a duo of services that include their Clear Choice Clinic, which serves about 1,000 men and women yearly with pregnancy and STD diagnosis and treatment, and Hope Family Resource Center, which provides training and material goods to expectant parents. All appointments are free. They also added a mobile unit two years ago that provides medical and educational services at the nearby Indian reservation. About four years ago, Reimer was able to raise enough funds for the nonprofit to renovate the 1970s building Clear Choice Clinic is located in.
“It really was designed around how we could make our patients feel valued,” Reimer said, which includes how it smells, how it looks, and what they see. “From the moment they walk in and then out the door and what happens in between—it is genuine, compassionate care in what can be one of the most awkward and difficult times of their lives.”
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The blue formica, mauve walls, purple carpeting, and golden oak floors were swapped out for modern fixtures, neutral colors, and a welcoming feel. Patients won’t hear Christian music or see Bibles, which may be off-putting to some, but the Christian values are felt through the non-judgmental, professional, and warm care each patient is given, Reimer said.
“It is stereotypical that Christians can be judgmental in these circumstances, but I never experienced that kind of vibe. Because of that I was able to be very open,” said Abigail Boll-Hayward, a 22-year-old nursing school student with a 3-year-old son, Carter.
Abigail grew up in a Christian home and spent 60 hours as a high-school student at Hope Family Resource Center. She helped overhaul their filing system and gained credit towards her participation in the National Honors Society. Surprisingly, Abigail found herself filing out her own patient paperwork a few months later.
“I was this girl going to Christian school and all the sudden I am sitting in the clinic,” Abigail said, adding that she had been sexually active her senior year of high school and decided before going away to college to go to Clear Choice for STD testing. “I was ready for change.”
That spring day, Abigail learned some shocking news: she was pregnant. “I graduated pregnant from high school a few weeks before and didn’t know,” she said, adding that her boyfriend was no longer in the picture. “Pregnancy was not even on my radar as a possibility.”
A week later, she came back to Clear Choice, had an ultrasound and heard her son’s heartbeat. “They said you can go the adoption route, parent, or abort. Clear Choice always gives you three options and resources for all three.”
These vulnerable conversations are opportunities to let women and men know they are valued no matter what, Reimer said, as well as opportunities to challenge without judgment.
“We walk that fine line between acceptance and a firm hand on the shoulder that says you can do this differently, you don’t have to do the same tomorrow,” Reimer said. In mid March she sat with a patient who had tallied her sexual partners at 17 in 17 years of life. “Our goal is not to shame them but to recognize the risk that puts them and what it does to them physically, spiritually, and emotionally.”
Abigail said she felt respected, whatever choice she made, by the staff at Clear Choice. She said her inner moral compass made her choice clear—she would parent her son. Within weeks, she began attending classes at Hope Family Resource Center. She reconnected with a team member at Clear Choice, who she had met during her volunteer hours, who became her mentor—and still is to this day.
Hope Family Resource Center hosts a program that includes mentoring, parenting, and birthing classes where participation earns “mommy bucks,” which they call Earn While You Learn. Their chic boutique hosts brand new and used items, from cribs and pack-n-plays, car seats and changing tables to clothing, diapers and wipes—everything a family needs up to their child’s second birthday. Reimer hopes this process establishes pride in parents, of what they earned successfully to provide for their own.
“I was living in my parents’ house and taking prerequisites for nursing school, so I wasn’t able to work a job and buy these things,” Abigail said. “I went to Hope classes once a week and earned everything I needed for Carter all packed away and prepped for him until he was 9 months old.”
Even beyond the material needs, Abigail said the staff at Hope Family Resource Center provided the support and guidance she needed to mentally and emotionally navigate her unexpected pregnancy, the drama with her son’s father, and prepare for motherhood. The classes even meant she felt confident going into labor, Abigail said. “I felt like I was ready for this journey.”
When Hope Pregnancy Ministries was founded in 1999, the only services they offered were pregnancy tests and referrals, Reimer said. When she came on board 14 years ago, the Resource Center was expanding to provide ultrasounds and additional pregnancy care as well as launch Clear Choice Clinic. In 2012 they added STD testing and treatment, opening their services to both men and women, allowing them to expand their emphasis on value to a much larger group.
“The idea of adding STD testing and treatment is to reach that other portion of the population that is living a lifestyle of sexual risk but not facing an unexpected pregnancy,” Reimer said. “Our culture really devalues sex and it has been an interesting ride to open our doors and challenge them to look at life differently.”
While Reimer said both her and the nursing staff do not assume they have the right to bring up Christianity during every appointment, she said she looks for ways to communicate God’s love when appropriate.
Looking to the future, Reimer said she dreams of expanding the healthcare options they currently offer. Her goals include adding a full-time nurse practitioner to do routine and well exams, including breast exams, mammogram referrals, and more.
“For early pregnancy care, I would love to take care of patients for the first 20 weeks of their pregnancy. What if we could carry them a little longer so they develop confidence in their ability to take care of themselves and this baby?” Reimer said. Currently, Clear Choice Clinic provides pregnancy diagnosis, followed by one or two appointments before the patient is referred to OB care. “Sometimes it is taking that next step that is really scary.”
Two years ago, they added in-house professional counseling, but Reimer hopes to grow the program. Currently, the need is maxxed out and patients must join the wait list, something Reimer credits to COVID. In addition, the mobile unit (which is driven by Reimer’s husband and others weekly) recently began offering parenting classes, which have been wildly successful in the last few months, she said.
Thankfully, the arrival of COVID-19 a year ago has not interfered with the work of Hope Pregnancy Ministries, Reimer said. The team took precautions, but the staff unanimously decided to continue working. “There wasn’t a day we were closed,” Reimer said.
While the pandemic felt like a blip on the radar, it did create more work, Reimer said. As an accredited organization (Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, a national healthcare organization creating standards that promote patient safety), Clear Choice Clinic has 550 procedural and safety standards of excellence in place. “Then you add COVID on top of that,” Reimer said.
The main impact of COVID was to create a widespread culture of fear, which meant an influx of patients coming to Clear Choice Clinic considering abortion. In both March and April of 2020, Reimer said almost every patient they saw was considering abortion.
“No one knew what COVID really was and no one wanted to bring a baby into the world,” Reimer said, adding that while this was challenging for her staff, this phase faded in the early summer of 2020.
Reimer, who spent her career before Hope Pregnancy Ministries as an OR, pediatric and labor and delivery nurse, says that while she spends most of her time behind her desk raising funds or strategizing how to lead Hope Pregnancy Ministries, she loves her work. “I am the nurse who never wanted to sit behind the desk sitting behind the desk and loving it.” Reimer laughed. “Fourteen years later, I still love it and still feel called to this work.”
Currently, Abigail said she is enjoying the stage of mothering a 3-year-old, is happily married and about to celebrate her second anniversary, and will graduate from nursing school in December. Her hope is to join the team at Clear Choice Clinic.
“A nurse in a hospital cannot be open about her story, but at Clear Choice you have that opportunity. I have been in these rooms and experienced what those women are experiencing,” Abigail said. “I love what Hope Pregnancy Ministries does and I want to be part of that.”