Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world – James 1:27
Health has been very much on my mind lately. Not so much my health – although I must admit that various parts of my body have been creaking a lot – as the health of people I know and love. There is cancer, bypass surgery, pregnancy, M.S., and the daily challenges of living with Type I diabetes.
This week, then, when I visited the Brandon Outreach Clinic to interview executive director Deborah Meegan for a Tampa Tribune article, the stories I heard probably made more impact than the usual.
Ten years ago the clinic was open two half-days a week. Today it’s four days a week all day long. There is no end to the need, and that need is increasing.
First let’s dispel myth # 1 (the myth that people who need help must – somehow – deserve their plight) – The Brandon Outreach Clinic primarily sees patients who work hard, don’t over-extend themselves, and do their very best to pay their bills. Most people need help because of factors such as no insurance, inadequate insurance, unemployment, savings-depleting events, and long-term illnesses.
More often than not, we’re talking about people who deal with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, disability, or diabetes.
“Sometimes,” Meegan said, “a family can afford to see a doctor but simply can’t come up with $200 (or significantly more) a month for medication.”
Or there’s a mandatory waiting period – sometimes as long as 24-months – between eligibility for benefits and when they kick in. Or their insurance has been changed and now they can’t afford the deductibles or the co-payments. Or a job has been lost and the cost of COBRA is out of reach.
Bottom line, in this and every community around the nation, hundreds if not thousands of people fall between the cracks of a labyrinthine and cold-hearted system that simply forgets that it’s the stories of real people that get lost when all we look at is the numbers; or, worse, the politics of health.
“We serve 8,400 people a year,” Deborah Meegan said. “We have close to 100 doctors who volunteer. Then, in addition, nurses, nurse-practitioners, physicians’ assistants, pharmacists, and lab techs… But we still can’t keep up.”
With a 2011 operating budget of just $230,000, Meegan’s team will deliver significantly more than $2 million of healthcare. One recent accounting documented a value ratio approaching eleven to one.
Yet, and this is a fact no community should not tolerate, Meegan reported the clinic will fall well short of their budget in 2011 receipts.
Only four Brandon churches (and we’re one of them) have a faithful, consistent, “This is our responsibility too” relationship with the outreach clinic.
Ultimately, though, this story rests on the real-life drama of actual people, our friends and neighbors, who are either helped… or not.
And so, along with the joy of making a difference, Deborah Meegan’s heart is broken by the knowledge that people suffer and die because they can’t or don’t now how to access medical care.
“I think of one 46-year-old women with breast cancer,” she said. “By the time we saw her the tumor weighed 34 pounds. She didn’t see a doctor for two years because she couldn’t afford to and she was scared she’d lose everything. She died a few weeks after surgery. She died and she didn’t need to. It makes me cry.”
Listen up, people. Accessible healthcare is not a luxury item.
- So give generously to the Brandon Outreach Clinic, or the equivalent facility in your community
- Encourage your church, or business, or community organization to go the extra mile when it comes to chipping in and taking ownership
- And lobby government – local, state and federal – and encourage them to rethink the way we chose to allocate resources
I personally know individuals who have tried to take on the healthcare burden of just one family member who is uninsured. Bottom line, it’s impossible, even for those most of us would consider comfortably well of.
This is a corporate responsibility, no one gets a pass.
Sounding off – DEREK