Health Care for the Needy (Orlando)

  • Local Projects
  • 1997

The pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, William Barnes, asked his congregation to create a volunteer medical clinic to serve immigrants, itinerant agricultural workers, homeless persons, seasonal tourism employees lacking health insurance, and other needy locals. Within six months, the church had opened a clinic where volunteer doctors, nurses, and helpers were seeing patients at no charge. Central Floridians began to drive long distances to visit Shepherd’s Hope, so other churches joined as partners, and in 2015 there were five Shepherd’s Hope clinics operating in greater Orlando, seeing low-income patients from one to four days per week.

Every clinic relies on three sponsors. Churches are the primary providers of volunteer doctors, nurses, therapists, and other assisting persons, who are motivated to serve by their faith commitment. The church also is expected to provide an advisory committee to oversee the center, to appoint a volunteer director and fill other positions, and to supply several thousand dollars for expenses. A facility partner provides space in a building. And a hospital partner offers donated pharmaceuticals, diagnostic tests, and other specialty services. When uninsured persons get sick they often show up at emergency rooms which are expensive to operate, so hospitals have economic as well as humanitarian incentives to assist Shepherd’s Hope.

The other crucial support to these clinics is philanthropic donations. The Dr. Phillips, Edyth Bush, Robert Wood Johnson, Magruder, Friends, Komen, and Eckerd Family foundations were crucial in the early years of setting up the clinics. The organization gets no direct government funding. The state removed a crucial obstacle to the clinics’ success, however, by passing a law that grants immunity from malpractice suits to any health-care professional who volunteers in a program serving low-income patients. Shepherd’s Hope has provided more than 160,000 free medical consultations since opening.