Medical professionals urge congregational health advocacy | Print |

By Brian Kaylor
Baptist General Convention of Missouri

Photo: Joel McLendon

ATLANTA-Medical professionals explained how the biblical calling to take care of the sick could be met by churches offering medical treatment and information Feb. 1 during a New Baptist Covenant special interest session titled "Reaching Out to the Sick."

Offering advice, resources, contacts and a strong challenge, panelists addressed the health needs of people and how churches can help.

Retired physician Drayton Sanders outlined the problems he sees with the current medical system and ways that churches could be part of the solution. He charged that the medical field has turned from being a calling—as it was for him—to a business.

He cited a litany of medical problems that include rising costs; lack of access to care for 15 percent of Americans, 80 percent of them in working families; a lack of fairness as medical costs are shifted from uninsured to insured; and ineffectiveness as a result of declining patient choice, increase in demand and a shortage of healthcare workers.

Sanders briefly argued for some form of universal healthcare system to ensure that "no one is left out." He noted that strong resistance to the notion from businesses and legislators—along with an apathetic public—makes such proposals unlikely. He urged churches to help fill the void by voting and lobbying for medical reform and through congregational health advocacy.

Sanders pointed to the Parish Nurse Program, where a church staffer or volunteer leads the effort in caring for the congregation. This approach combines the physical with the spiritual in order to provide holistic care.

Sanders argued that church health advocates should teach wellness to their congregants, serve as an advocate by providing resources and information about medical issues and options, and train home caregivers. Sanders also urged churches to view the health advocate as a minister instead of support staff because of the strong connection between the physical and spiritual.

Finally, Sanders suggested that churches should set up free clinics to help "the underserved in the community." Although clinics can be complicated and expensive, he said, they provide an opportunity "to serve out what God has called us to do—to minister to others" and "to bring others to Jesus." When people are sick, they are often more receptive to the gospel than usual, he added.

Other panelists echoed the call by Sanders for church health advocates to provide resources and assistance on important health issues.

LaRue Wilson, a certified nurse, emphasized the importance of helping church members understand Medicare, Medicaid and other programs. She suggested that congregation have a "church nurse" who can educate the members about the medical process and options.

To help answer questions and provide resources for those present at the panel, Wilson introduced Judy Weaver and Maxine Turnipseed, both health insurance specialists with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. They noted the importance of working with churches and other faith-based organizations to make information on Medicaid and Medicare available to more people.

Physician Fred Loper, executive director of the Baptist Medical Dental Fellowship, told how churches can offer free clinics and encouraged attendees to pick up information.

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