Karen Blank credits St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center in Rochester with saving her life.
After working for Eastman Kodak Co. for 21 years, the Holley native was laid off several years back. Part of her severance package included four months of health benefits, but soon Blank faced managing her diabetes without any health insurance.
Three years ago, when Blank needed a physical after going back to school, she was referred to St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center. Volunteers there got her the medical help she needed, which now will include dialysis.
“My kidneys were shot,” she said. “Without (St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center), I’d be dead. They have given me the care and attention I need.”
An April 19 “Faith-Based Health Alternatives” conference in Geneva, sponsored by the Genesee Region Public Health Association, will introduce participants to such ministries as St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center and Health Ministry of the Southern Tier that strive to care for the uninsured and underinsured populations throughout the Rochester Diocese.
Other ministries such as the Webster-Penfield Health Ministry (a ministry of Church of the Holy Spirit in Penfield and St. Rita, St. Paul and Holy Trinity parishes in Webster) work to educate parishioners and community members about health topics. They also provide blood-pressure screenings and link people to health-care resources. Speakers from all these ministries will lead discussions during the conference.
The health-care system is broken, said Sister Christine Wagner, director of St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, noting that communities are being forced to do what they can to help those in need.
“We’re there because there’s a lack in the larger community,” Sister Wagner said. “The faith community is trying to step in to fill ‚Ä¶ the void for the lack of accessibility to health care for people.”
Her hope is that after the conference, discussions continue about the kind of systematic change that is needed, including revamping employer-based health coverage and creating a more holistic health-care system, explained Sister Wagner, whose center is now in its 14th year on Rochester’s South Avenue.
“The more people live in poverty, they have more stressors that lead to more physical ailments,” she said. “We must look at the whole family and improve the overall health of people.”
According to statistics from the New York State Department of Health, 2.6 million residents are uninsured throughout the state. In Rochester, 46 percent of the uninsured in 2001 were between the ages of 18 and 24 with incomes that were more than 200 percent below the federal poverty level, according to a 2001 Excellus Health Policy report.
To meet the needs of these populations, St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center and Health Ministry of the Southern Tier — which is in its 10th year and is now a United Way agency with four health centers in Bath, Corning, Elmira and Watkins Glen — operate with volunteer medical professionals and community donations to provide primary, mental-health and dental care. The centers also have ties to specialty services at area hospitals.
“The common denominator between volunteers and patients and clients is there is a true belief that we do need to care for each other as a community,” said Sister Wagner, who added that these groups come from all faiths. “There is a deep faith base that oozes out of everyone’s pores.”
A large percentage of patients at these health-care centers are the working poor.
“So many people cannot afford health insurance, and so many employers don’t (provide) it anymore because it’s so expensive,” said Deacon Ray Defendorf, pastoral administrator of St. Mary Parish in Bath, who will speak about the Southern Tier program. “We need to get the word out.”
Approaching health care with a faith perspective is not a new concept, said Felice Armignacco, a retired nurse who leads the Webster-Penfield Health Ministry.
“Churches have always been involved with the health of people,” she said. “To bring the spiritual and physical together is what we aim to do.”
Blank said she hopes increased awareness will encourage people to lean on their own government representatives to address the health-care needs of everyone.
“In a country as wealthy and technologically savvy as we are, there should be no one that should have to go without health care,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Faith-Based Health Alternatives conference will be held from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at the Ramada Geneva Lakefront, 41 Lakefront Drive. To register or for more information, call 585/396-4343 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.