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Issue Date:  August 15, 2003

Dynamic outreach refuses to yield to barriers

Dr. Ernie Quiroz examines a pediatric patient at Clinica Santa Maria, one of St. Mary's community health centers in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Serving health care’s needy is both “exciting and depressing,” said Dr. Doug Edema, president/CEO of Advantage Health and ambulatory services vice president for St. Mary’s Mercy Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Edema (pronounced, Ee-deema) was one of three speakers at the Catholic Health Assembly tackling issues of “providing access to care for the uninsured and underinsured while the coverage debate lingers.”

His main points: Collaborate, go to the philanthropists and foundations to beg funds, and don’t be put off by any barriers, including the “mountain of work” and the fact “you just kind of scratch the surface of the community’s needs.”

St. Mary’s has been at it for a while. Edema described the imagination and outreach brought to bear in a half-dozen examples:

  • In downtown Grand Rapids in 1989, St. Mary’s opened Heartside, a medical clinic for the homeless smack in the middle of the homeless population.
  • The city’s southwest has Clinica Santa Maria to serve the Hispanic population. What started in 1990 in an abandoned fire house is a now a new facility built essentially with foundation grants, not least from St. Mary’s Doran Foundation.
  • McAuley Health Center for HIV/AIDS patients juggles trying to find the correct cocktail of medicines, and find jobs and more permanent housing for its clients.
  • For rural outreach, the Sparta Health Center was developed in the 1970s for the migrant farm workers. It is now so highly regarded that people from the full-time rural population, out as far as 30 miles away, choose today’s modern facility for their health care. It began in three trailers.

“We tend to do things with trailers,” said Edema. The Browning Claytor Center, a neighborhood ministerial alliance, began its outreach that way in the black community.

Another neighborhood project, created by St. Mary’s Medical, St. Alphonsus Catholic Parish and the Crestwood Neighborhood Association, is Catherine’s Care. What began as a neighborhood outreach now has volunteer time from some retired physicians.

The point Edema made in his opening, about St. Mary’s work only “scratching the surface,” leads to a wider observation. It is that Catholic and other nonprofit health care systems alone cannot meet the demands of the uninsured population. Nonetheless, there is a dynamism to Catholic outreach that refuses to yield in the face of the barriers Edema described.

-- Arthur Jones

National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 2003

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