success stories

Posted May 18, 2004

Yet another success story on parishes
becoming medically involved in helping the unfortunate

Parish Health Care for the Working Poor

By Father Eugene Hemrick
Catholic News Service

Deeply inspiring is the only way I can describe "Parish Outreach: Health Care for the Working Poor," a seminar held in November at the Washington Theological Union in Washington.

The seminar focused on volunteer health care centers that are serving thousands of people in the United States who often have no health care coverage or, worse, no hope of recovering from serious illnesses. What is especially inspiring is that this work mirrors Christ, who forever was curing the infirm. Through his example he taught us that caring for others in this way is one of the greatest acts of love we can perform.

The seminar started with a touching story of Dave, a happy, outgoing, singing waiter in a local restaurant. It was recounted by a member of the Shepherd's Hope health care facility in Orlando, Fla., who knew Dave.

One evening Dave suddenly became dizzy and had to be rushed to the hospital. Doctors told him he needed extensive tests to learn the causes of his dizziness. Being employed part time and having no medical coverage, Dave quickly drained his savings before the needed tests could be performed. Everything seemed hopeless until Shepherd's Hope heard of his plight, took him under its care and worked to obtain the needed tests.

Today 16 percent of the U.S. population is like Dave: without medical insurance or hope if a serious medical problem occurs. It is predicted that this percentage will climb dramatically in the near future. Rising doctor and hospital expenses, and an increase in prescription drug costs, which are creating a decline in employer medical coverage, are the main causes of this situation.

To aid uninsured people like Dave, volunteer health services such as Shepherd's Hope are being created in local communities, especially by churches. One advantage churches enjoy when they establish such facilities is having doctors and nurses in their congregations to call upon. An even greater advantage is being able to spiritually connect church health services with living the Gospels.

These centers require good managers who can attract volunteers and provide them with the proper training. Especially essential to the operation is finding the right facilities. It was heartening to learn that local counties and hospitals often donate medical supplies, free lab services and equipment. One reason is that the health care centers often detect early stages of serious diseases in poor people, thus enabling the disease to be attended to immediately. Early treatment often means fewer emergency cases at hospitals, which by law would be required to admit these patients had the disease progressed.

From a financial point it was encouraging to learn that doctors working in these centers regularly donate large amounts of prescription drugs they receive as free samples.

Most parishes can and should establish health care centers. Why emphasize getting into this difficult business? For one thing, because in serving the physical health needs of the sick and the poor, we mirror Christ, who cared for them so well. In doing so we practice a vital principle of the spiritual life.