Clinic Closure Could Affect Many in the Flathead Valley

By Beacon Staff

When Bryan and Elaine Green moved to Kalispell in 1983, one of their first orders of business was finding a healthcare provider.

The young family, with two of their eventual eight kids, found Dr. Jim Armstrong, who at that time was working with physician assistant Susan Cahill.

The Greens took to Armstrong and Cahill, visiting them for everything from their kids’ ear infections to Bryan’s broken ribs, and eventually to help manage their youngest daughter’s congenital blood disorder.

“Susan Cahill has managed our medical care for 30 years; a family of 10 people, and three generations now,” Elaine Green said in an interview last week. “I will have to find another doctor really soon because my daughter must have medical care.”

The Greens are two of many patients who may have to find new health care providers after Cahill’s practice, All Families Healthcare, closed down following a March 4 break-in, during which art, furniture, medical instruments and supplies, filing cabinets, the main sewer line, the furnace, and the water heater were damaged.

The Columbia Falls man charged with the crime, Zachary Klundt, 24, is facing four felonies in connection with the clinic vandalism as well as an alleged attempted burglary at a local bail bonds business, and investigators reported finding medical documents at Klundt’s residence.

All Families Healthcare, the only abortion provider in the valley, has been the target of violence before. In 1994, Richard T. Andrews of
Washington firebombed the clinic, which was located elsewhere.

Karen Nichols, a patient of Cahill’s for 24 years and who was a newspaper photographer at the time of the firebombing, remembers responding to the scene of the fire.

She had just been at the clinic a couple days before with a bad earache, Nichols said, and when she arrived to take pictures of the damage, she encountered Cahill outside the building.

“Susan said, ‘Oh my gosh, how are you doing?’” Nichols said. “And it just struck me and it still sits with me. She really has a deep concern for her patients; it’s sort of unparalleled.”

Hope Pregnancy Ministries, a Christian clinic that identifies itself as an alternative to abortion and which has ties to Klundt’s family, along with 40 Days for Life, a Christian organization that opposes abortions and routinely pickets in front of All Families Healthcare, have both denounced the violence used in the vandalism.

Nichols and the Greens said they understand that the debate about abortion is an emotional one for many people, but they also stressed that

Cahill’s practice does much more than just provide abortions; the clinic offers a wide range of family practice medicine, along with reproductive services.

“I have never had any reason to imagine why another patient was (at the clinic),” Bryan Green said. “Everyone was there for health care.”

“We’ve had a relationship with Susan for 30 years, that has been so totally part of our lives,” Elaine Green said. “I may get quality health care (somewhere else) but I will not get a relationship like that again.”

In a March 24 interview, Cahill said she was still planning on taking the summer off, and then would make a decision about the her clinic’s future.

She said she feels a responsibility to her regular patients, of which there are “a lot,” and she wanted to be able to retire in a couple of years and allow for an easier transition for her patients.

“It feels like I’m leaving (my patients) hanging and that makes me feel awful,” Cahill said. “But it also feels at this time very daunting to even think about starting over again.”

An online grassroots effort to raise money for All Families Healthcare on the website Indiegogo that started out with a goal of $25,000 has netted more than $61,000, with more than 900 people donating and about three weeks left to earn donations.

Will Randall, co-chair of Love Lives Here, a local organization affiliated with the Montana Human Rights Network, said the campaign was started “in support of a victim of violence,” and that checks have been coming in the mail as well as donations online.

“The donations are coming from all over the country,” Randall said.

Nichols said she would miss having Cahill as her primary care professional, as would many others in the valley.

“I feel like Susan’s been there in a steadfast way for her patients for almost 40 years,” Nichols said. “It feels like it’s time for her patients to stand with her and to let her feel our gratitude and admiration for her compassion and her courage and her tenacity for sticking with us this long.”

Elaine Green said she hopes she doesn’t have to go to another provider, though she understands that people have to change health care providers at times. However, she wants her relationship with Cahill to end because the physician assistant chose to retire.

“I don’t want to see Susan Cahill’s practice closed because of violence,” Elaine Green said.

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