Church-run clinics help families get needed care

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church-run clinics help families get needed care

Jan. 18, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0787}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**
Melissa Whaley has been having grand-mal seizures lately, but with no insurance, she said seeing a doctor was out of the question — until she learned about Shepherd’s Hope Health Center.

Dr. Jeff Thill, who volunteers at a Shepherd's Hope Health Center, examines patient Geannie Figuereo. Photo by Tim Griffis. Photo #08-0731.

“There was nobody in the world to help me, but this place helped me,” she said. “It was my first time here today, and I met the doctor for the first time, and he shook my hand, and he looked at me as a person, not a paycheck.”
Whaley received a free doctor’s visit, free medication and, most importantly, compassionate care.

Shepherd’s Hope Health Center was organized a decade ago by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando to serve people without access to insurance or medical care. Today, it’s a ministry that includes nine health care centers in the Orlando area run by 2,000 volunteers from 20 churches.
The Rev. Dr. William S. Barnes, senior pastor at St. Luke’s, says the ministry is simply “caring people, caring for other people.”
“We have so many people who are working part-time jobs in the parks (local attractions), in the entertainment community, a lot of persons who are involved in the hospitality industry who don’t have insurance benefits,” he said.
More than 60,000 people have found hope and healing since Barnes felt called to begin the ministry in 1995.
“I was walking on the beach … at Sanibel Island, Fla., minding my own business, and I had an epiphany from God to start a clinic,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. William Barnes says the Shepherd's Hope ministry is simply “caring people, caring for other people.” Photo by Tim Griffis. Photo by #08-0732.

Barnes sent out a call for volunteers, and 200 people showed up to help. Miraculously, he says, “the people, the places and pieces” all fell together. Within six months, the first Shepherd’s Hope Health Center opened its doors.
“When we give ourselves to God’s power and vision, there is no limit to what we can do, to what a difference we can make,” Barnes says.
All positions in the clinics, from the doctors and nurses to the clerical workers, are voluntary. Most doctors volunteer one shift a month.

Nann Carmine is a schoolteacher who volunteers in the pharmacy. “If we can keep the flow going, we can see 30 patients in an evening with two doctors,” she said.
Barnes believes the medical professionals who volunteer their time and talents benefit from their service. It reminds them why they were called to healing in the first place.
That service translates into even bigger benefits for the patients. In 2006 alone Shepherd’s Hope volunteers donated services valued at more than $1.8 million.

Shepherd’s Hope does not offer emergency care, but provides the kind of services patients would receive in a family practice setting. Commonly treated illnesses include upper respiratory infections, skin disorders, gynecological concerns and urinary tract infections. Area hospitals donate laboratory and radiology services.

Patients are eligible if they have incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, are uninsured and are not eligible for government-assisted health care programs. Once treated, the patients are assisted in finding a permanent source of medical care, whenever possible.

Shepherd's Hope Health Clinic volunteer Nann Carmine organizes donated medications to be given to the clinic's low-income patients. Photo by Tim Griffis. Photo #08-0733.

Barnes says the clinic ministry is a “natural outgrowth of who we are here at St. Luke’s.” The name Luke comes from a physician in the Bible and the church has always seen itself as a healing ministry for the community, Barnes said.

Patients and their families seem generally “overwhelmed with gratitude,” he added.
”We’re just pleased to hear that there are things like this in existence,” Tonya Scott said. She and her husband, William, brought in their 1-year-old son, Seth, for a checkup.

”I love that there’s people that love us enough to be here for us,” said Whaley, who visited the clinic after hearing about it from friends. “God sent them to us to help us.”
A list of Shepherd’s Hope health centers, with locations and operating hours, is available at

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla.

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