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What's Up Magazine

What’s Up? Visionaries: Sandra “Sandi” Shanahan

Jan 19, 2016 03:56PM ● By James Houck
When I greet Sandi Shanahan at the driveway of her Glebe Bay waterfront Colonial, she’s sitting in, what appears to be, a retro Volkswagen microbus dated from the mid-1980s. She’s having her photo taken by our staff photographer and these shots, I’m told, are the fun, playful photographs at the end of this session. She’s showing off her fun and curious side, but also the pointed and determined character within her. I come to learn that on this late-November day she’s been looking over and through the old microbus, taking stock of needed tweaks, fixes, and supplies—a checklist to get it up to snuff for her planned camping trip to Florida come mid-January, on through the end of winter. When I ask her if she’s ever done this type of trip before—driving solo down to the Sunshine State to overwinter in a VW bus—she says this will be a first, but one she’s determined to accomplish. Perhaps a bit of a risk, but one with huge upside and potential reward. Which is how Sandi lived out a vision she had more than 10 years ago, when the then nearly-retired nurse practitioner saw a dire need in the Annapolis area community—basic primary healthcare for underprivileged children—and brought a low-cost clinic solution to full blossom.

It was a 60-some-year road through childhood, college/nursing, courtship with husband Jim, three children, 14 Navy moves throughout the world, more nursing, and “retirement” before Sandi decided, one day, to Google “How to start a business in Maryland?” It’s been quite a journey for her and one in which hands-on experience—from within the trauma ward to the kids’ play room to home-care visits—gave her the physical, cerebral, and emotional wherewithal to develop “goodwill toward others” into something of substance.

“I’m originally from Florida and grew up in the small town of Clearwater. My father passed away when I was 12 years old, so it was just myself, mother, and sister from then on,” Sandi says. “Education in Florida was good then and I went to nursing school.”

Shanahan enrolled in a three-year hospital nursing program through the University of Florida in Dade County, simultaneously learning and practicing nursing at Jackson Memorial Hospital. “We were used on the floor as staff,” she recalls. Shanahan would graduate the program as a Registered Nurse and then decided to move to Boston to work at Massachusetts General, “because if you worked there, they would pay for up to six credits per semester at Boston University.” She did so for three years and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. All the while, she was dating her Navy man, Jim, who upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy, was deployed out of Norfolk, and spent most of his first four years in the Western Pacific (“This was the Vietnam era,” Sandi says). The two would marry and have three children. Sandi’s nursing career slowed down as motherhood geared up and the family would move a total of 14 times during Jim’s 30 years in the Navy to far flung locales including stints closer to her home in Florida and, of course, Annapolis.

When Jim neared his retirement as a Captain in 1994, the duo had a couple of options on where to settle—property at Lake Anna in Virginia or a house in Eastport, Annapolis, and chose the latter based on proximity and accessibility to residential and commercial wants. “Annapolis had changed so nicely since the 1970s,” Sandi says. With their children having grown into adulthood (all three earned Master’s degrees) and starting families of their own in the D.C. region, the decision was a natural and, upon deciding that Eastport was “too built out” for them, Jim and Sandi bought a nice slice of property in 1997 off Glebe Bay, South River, in Edgewater. “Jim always wanted to wake up in the morning with the sun rising over the water,” Sandi recalls fondly of her late husband.

Ironically, as Jim wound down his career and retired, Sandi went to task rekindling her own. “When we moved back here, I wanted to keep working,” she says.

“My choices were either the hospital or doctors’ offices. I didn’t want to work rotating shifts. And doctors’ offices didn’t pay too much. So my first job when we moved back to Annapolis was with the Childrens Hospital Home Care office based in Prince Frederick. I was a supervisor there and we had all of Maryland for home care visits. Then, I had an opportunity to go back to school. I went to the University of Maryland and got my Nurse Practitioner degree. During that time, I also volunteered at the Stanton Center in Annapolis. Pediatric services there were only available two times per month, and during school hours. That’s when I first saw this whole population with little access to basic medical care. That’s what got me thinking,” Sandi says, raising her hand above head as if a light bulb there suddenly illuminated.

“After several years of that; I decided I wanted to start a clinic. So I Googled ‘How do you start a business in Maryland?’ and it tells you. And it just took off.” Of course, there were some hurdles and needs to facilitate the clinic’s formation, including legal consultations, staffing, etc., but I eat up the short version of the story enthusiastically. Just “Google and go” has a nice ring.

Sandi founded the Shanahan Children’s Clinic in 2005; its beginning was very humble and remained so during its 10-year run in Annapolis. Starting in an unused pool house within the Allen apartments complex, Sandi ran the clinic every Tuesday, providing primary care needs to underprivileged youth. The clinic would move twice; first into Mount Olive AME Church and finally into the Salvation Army headquarters on Hilltop Lane, where it remained until Sandi closed the clinic in September of this past year.

“I ran the clinic on $10,000 a year. My son thought I was crazy; that it couldn’t be done. But it was fine, it was great,” Sandi says. “The saints that held this all together were the volunteers.” Sandi also effuses appreciation for the community donors including Annapolis Rotary, her church, the naval community, and several individual donors—she never had to apply for state or federal funding because of their generosity. It was a good 10-year run by all accounts. Ten years that saw Sandi treat, advocate for, and spearhead initiatives to improve the health of thousands of children in our community.

“Right up until the last day, we always had new patients,” she says, thinking for a moment. “I realize I’ve left a population with needs. But there is something in the works. I’m having talks with a local pediatrician about what we might be able to do. I can’t really fully say right now. There’s ideas; it’s at the idea stage.” Hopefully, God willing, Sandi will be able to bring another idea to full blossom.

James Houck