|United Methodist free clinic opens in New Orleans
The Rev. Oscar Ramos-Gallardo confers with patients at
Luke's House, a new free clinic at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church's
Family Life Center in New Orleans.
UMNS photos by Betty Backstrom.
By Betty Backstrom*
Dec. 6, 2007 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)
The Rev. Connie Thomas stood with tears in her eyes as nurses and
doctors treated patients during the opening of Luke's House, a free
clinic housed in Mt. Zion United Methodist Church's Family Life Center.
"This is cutting edge ministry," said Thomas, pastor of Mt. Zion
Church. "Here is a chance for United Methodists to do hands-on work,
helping those in need as they recover from Hurricane Katrina."
Mt. Zion was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
Situated near a thoroughfare in an underserved area of New Orleans, the
clinic opened in mid-November and is making its services available to
anyone in need.
"Many of the residents are uninsured and need free health care," said
the Rev. Carol Winn Crawford, pastor of Rayne Memorial United Methodist
Church, a partner church in the project. "A lot of children live in the
area surrounding Mt. Zion."
An African-American couple with a young child visited with church
volunteers while waiting to see the doctor at the clinic's opening.
During the conversation, volunteers learned the family was homeless and
in need of food.
"We were able to provide food items from the Mt. Zion pantry and give
them housing vouchers that had been purchased by Rayne from the
Salvation Army," said a smiling Thomas.
The free clinic will serve former residents who have returned to the
central city area and growing numbers of Hispanic workers participating
in the reconstruction of homes and businesses.
"We hope not only to provide medical help, but to wrap them into the
conference's Hispanic ministry," said Rev. Oscar Ramos-Gallardo, a
United Methodist Board of Global Ministries missionary helping to expand
established Hispanic ministries in New Orleans and throughout the
Dr. Susan Berry, medical director for the clinic and a member of
Rayne, was amazed at how everything fell into place so the clinic could
"A lot of hard work certainly paid off, but it was remarkable that
things just seemed to work out miraculously," said Dr. Berry, also an
associate professor for the Louisiana State University Medical School.
Jiselle Bock, Dr. Susan Berry and the Rev. Connie Thomas
stand inside a portable exam room at Luke's House. A UMNS photo by Betty
One of those little miracles involved Dr. Betty Lo, a professor in
the Medical/Pediatrics Department at the Louisiana State University
Health Sciences Center. After expressing an interest in a partnership
with Luke's House, Berry and Lo established an agreement with the
pediatric resident physicians at the school. "The residents volunteered
every night for the opening and have agreed to staff the clinic
regularly on Tuesday nights," said Jiselle Bock, executive director for
the free clinic.
Other key elements needed for the clinic seemed to fall into place in
the weeks before the opening. Luke's House will be working with the St.
Vincent de Paul Pharmacy to obtain medications for patients.
"We received close to 1,000 pounds of donated supplies from a
physician in upstate New York," Berry said. "Dr. Joseph Lalka happened
to be retiring the week before our opening and offered us supplies from
his office. That gift saved us thousands of dollars."
Volunteers from as far away as Washington, Pennsylvania and Nebraska
had a hand in the opening of the clinic. The idea of opening a free
clinic came from members of volunteer work teams from St. Marks United
Methodist Church in Lincoln, Neb.
"Dr. Jim Jantzen and his wife, Amy, who is a registered nurse, not
only helped to staff the clinic, but helped set up the clinic before we
opened on Tuesday. Several volunteers from Nebraska also regularly serve
at Clinic with a Heart, our clinic model," Bock said.
Since December 2005, a total of 10 teams from Lincoln have been
housed at Rayne Memorial while gutting homes through the Louisiana
Disaster Recovery Ministry, which is supported by the United Methodist
Committee on Relief.
"We became very close to the teams from Lincoln. They even held
fundraising campaigns back in Nebraska for the rebuilding of New
Orleans," said Melissa Erekson, board member for Luke's House and a
member of Rayne.
Private donations and a grant for $84,000 from the Methodist Health
System Foundation in Louisiana provided a base of funds to launch the
"Luke's House is a unique development because we provide care in a
comprehensive way by offering medical services, mental health counseling
and pastoral counseling. Offering all this and caring for each
individual in the spirit of God's love truly makes this a healing
ministry," said Bock, who most recently served in a free clinic in
"One thing I am sure of," Bock said, "is that we have the capacity
and the resources in this country to make clinics like this one a
reality. Countries like Armenia have very little. But we have so much in
the United States at our fingertips."
The Rev. Larry Norman, director of Louisiana Volunteers in Mission,
will assist with recruiting volunteer medical teams locally and
"The teams will be critical in the success of the project, which will
be volunteer-driven. We've already been in conversation with a team
from Alabama, and we believe this volunteer opportunity will be very
successful," Norman said.
The clinic serves as a medical facility during the week and a sanctuary on Sunday.
"Our church, badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, is still in need of
repair," Thomas said. "So this examination area is like a M.A.S.H. unit,
which we take down before services and put back up again to serve
patients during the week. Once we can get appropriate funding to repair
the sanctuary, this area will be devoted fully to Luke's House."
*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Annual Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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