“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." – John 13:35,
New International Version
Volunteers at Angels Care Center join hands in the patient waiting room to pray for guidance and wisdom as patients line up outside, waiting for the facility to open. Photo by Susan Green.
ELOISE – The people who line up at Angels Care an hour before the doors open have plenty of aches and pains, lumps and bumps, coughs and congestion. They have worries that they may not get better, that their ailments may keep them from working, that their children may be facing serious illness.
What they don’t have is money. Or insurance.
Although the Affordable Care Act has provided millions with health care they never had before, many still don’t qualify for free care or can’t afford the cheapest insurance premiums provided under the law.
“They really can’t afford even the minimum payment,” said Janey Powell, who with her husband, Larry, persuaded fellow members of St. John’s UMC, Winter Haven, and other congregations to start a health care clinic in the semirural community of Eloise.
Since March 2011, when the clinic saw its first patient, about 6,000 people have received care there.
“These are people who just have no other alternative,” Janey said. “The need is unbelievable. There are people who have had their lives saved” through the clinic.
|Artist Jill Giffin displays artwork she donated to Samaritan Health and Wellness Center at its opening Nov. 3 in Cape Coral. The scripture reads, "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" from 1 John 2:4. Photo from Samaritan Health and Wellness Clinic.|
To the south, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, a clinic that opened last month through the efforts of Cape Coral First UMC and neighboring churches is also finding true need. The first week brought 40 patients to Samaritan Health and Wellness Center, which opened Nov. 3 in a small shopping plaza on Cape Coral Parkway East.
The ministry begun there by Sue Hook, a family nurse practitioner, joins Angels Care Center and Shepherd’s Hope Health Center of Orlando as ministries with Methodist roots in Florida that provide health care free or at a reduced cost to those who otherwise could not afford it. (Click here for a Florida Conference Connection report on Shepherd's Hope.)
All were started through visions of doing Christ’s bidding to help the poor, and all depend heavily on volunteers and donations from a dozen or more congregations in their communities. Angels Care and Shepherd’s Hope have recruited doctors, nurses and nursing students who donate their time; Samaritan is hoping to build a similar network.
"God is the one doing this work," said Hook, who gave up her job at Lee Memorial Health System to become executive director at Samaritan. She describes the clinic as a place of healing for the body, mind and spirit.
"We offer prayer if patients want it," she said. "It's about the healing ministry of Christ and the church reclaiming that."
She was at home going over patient charts and listening to a Christian radio show about three years ago when she heard about a Christ-centered health clinic founded in Memphis by Scott Morris, a family physician and ordained United Methodist minister.
|Toiletry bags prepared by local churches are among items given to patients who receive free medical exams at Angels Care Center. Photos by Susan Green.|
|In a former church classroom-turned-exam room, nurse Mary Haas, a member of St. John's UMC, Winter Haven, takes a blood pressure reading for Nayeli Saucedo, who volunteers her time as a translator at the clinic.|
Her passion to start a similar clinic in Cape Coral eventually led her to partner with local churches, including Cape Coral First UMC and the nondenominational Cape Christian. Samaritan is modeled after the clinic in Memphis and provides a range of services, including behavioral and mental health counseling, to the uninsured and under-insured for a low flat fee, typically $15 to $35 depending on the service provided.
"I think this is an amazing example of what church ought to be about," said Rev. Jay Therrell, pastor at Cape Coral First UMC. "We think the clinic is part of transforming the world in Jesus’ name."
Unlike Hook, Janey Powell had no medical training when she and her husband heard a call to health ministry.
Eloise UMC, a church about five miles from the St. John’s congregation the Powells have called home for many years, was getting ready to close, and St. John’s was fielding proposals for an outreach ministry there.
Janey and her husband immediately agreed that health care was the most pressing need in Eloise, which had become home to migrant farmworkers and other Spanish-speaking immigrants.
“We had no medical background,” Janey recalled. “We don’t speak Spanish. … We prayed about it. We thought of all the reasons we weren’t qualified.”
Instead of focusing on what they didn’t have, the couple considered the strengths they could offer, especially connections. Larry had retired after a career in parks and recreation; Janey is a retired schoolteacher. Both had done mission work. They began working their contacts.
“Every time something came along that we weren’t sure what to do, God did provide,” Janey said. “We really feel like it was a vision God gave us.”
Today, a dozen churches support the ministry. The clinic draws on a pool of about 15 doctors and more than 20 nurses. It opens every Tuesday at 4 p.m. and volunteer doctors and nurses typically see 20 to 25 patients on a first-come, first-served basis. Two to three doctors or nurse practitioners volunteer each Tuesday, along with five to six nurses, Janey said.
On the second Wednesday every month, Angels Care offers a diabetics clinic, and on the fourth Thursday, a dermatology clinic.
Other volunteers welcome patients, record their information and serve as translators. Patients who qualify must meet income limits and have no form of insurance. All services are free.
Volunteers also hand out bags of toiletries and other items donated by churches. More than 10,000 gift bags have been given away since the clinic opened. Altogether, it takes about 250 volunteers to keep the clinic going.
“A wonderful byproduct of this is the purpose it’s given to our volunteers,” Janey said.
Among those in the Angels Care waiting room recently was a young man named Bernardo, who drove his mother there for care. It was their second visit.
He said he was impressed that volunteers would donate their skills afterhours, when most had already put in a full day earning a living.
“They’re tired, and they come here to help their community,” he said.
Without the clinic, he said, he had no idea where his mother would receive care.
“It would cost me a lot of money, which I don’t have,” Bernardo said.
Janey said it’s important to everyone involved that no one feel embarrassed or worried about trusting their health to Angels Care.
“Our motto is God’s people caring for God’s people,” Janey said. “We just want them to feel God’s love when they come in.”
-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection. Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa.