A growing number of ELCA congregations are reaching out and helping those in need in creative ways that fit the needs of their communities:
The patient load at the free clinic was particularly heavy. With people stacked up, waiting to see her, the doctor spent about 20 minutes with the couple sitting in Exam One. The husband had wrestled with diabetes for years but did not have the money to pay for both testing strips and insulin. He'd solved the problem by guessing how much insulin to take each day. Now as the doctor handed him a testing device and strips donated from an area church, his wife burst into tears at the gift and said, "No one ever spent this much time with us before, we don't deserve this." The doctor smiled and responded, "Everyone deserves to be cared for."
When new physicians take their oath, they declare that they will "remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug."
Nowhere is this declaration put to action more than at the Bread of Healing Clinic, a free primary-care center for underprivileged people in one of Milwaukee's most troubled neighborhoods. The clinic, a ministry of Cross Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, is modest in its facilities, with three basement exam rooms and an office.
But there is nothing small about the difference the medicine practiced here makes in the lives of patients. Each month, volunteer doctors and nurses see over 350 patients, adding up to about 3,000 visits per year. And 800 uninsured members of the surrounding community come to Bread of Healing for regular medical care.
It all began when Rick Cesar, a parishioner of Cross Lutheran Church and registered nurse who worked at a nearby local hospital, began noticing that many of the patients that came into the E.R. weren't seeking emergency medicine. They were seeking primary medical care. Many of them were employed, but living below the poverty level with no health insurance or government assistance. Seeing that these people in his community had nowhere else to turn, Rick had the idea to begin seeing patients in the church's basement.
Remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
He began administering basic nursing services through the parish -- removing stitches, listening to lungs to make sure antibiotics were working, and treating common wounds. Then, through a parishioner who was a doctor, he met Barbara Horner-Ibler, a resident at Aurora-Sinai Medical Center, who is married to an ELCA pastor and is herself passionate about medicine and helping people in need. The two teamed up in 2000 to officially open the clinic, and since then, have grown a roster of volunteer physicians that includes primary care doctors, a psychologist, neurologist, physical therapist, pharmacist, and podiatrist.
And the Bread of Healing has grown in other ways too. Local hospitals now donate their laboratory resources. Members at Cross Lutheran and other local ELCA congregations offer administrative help and financial contributions. Medical students earn credit by volunteering their time at the clinic. And the greater Milwaukee philanthropic community has helped, too, providing grants that allow the clinic to purchase much-needed medicine and distribute it for free or at cost.
This elaborate network of volunteers and resources has made it possible to turn a $1 donation into $10 of medical care -- an inestimable benefit to a community that's often barely scraping by.
Now the clinical director and CEO of Bread of Healing, Rick Cesar has witnessed the clinic become a thriving stronghold in the urban community. A proud ambassador of this church, he and his team of volunteers work hard every day to show their brothers and sisters that, no matter how poor or uninsured they are, they all deserve to be cared for.