Dr. Carla Thomas - Abba Moses Clinic
The American health delivery system does four things very well. Because of Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, the American health delivery system provides basic medical care for the very young, very old, very rich and very poor. The segment of the population that suffers the most neglect of health is the 19-64 year old group. This group is also most often uninsured. It is this group that the Abba Moses Clinic serves. Like the Unmercenaries, Abba Moses is a desert father who was known for his works of mercy.
In 1985, I opened a medical practice in Anniston, Alabama. I wanted to live up to my baptized name of Panteleimona (after St Panteleimon, 7/27). St Panteleimon was an unmercenary, physician and great martyr who healed people of illnesses in the name of Jesus Christ. Thus, I wanted to be an unmercenary. An unmercenary is a saintly healer who charges no fees, in order to give glory unto God. Fr Jacob Myers of St John Wonderworker Orthodox Church in Atlanta, GA suggested that since I worked 40 hours a week, I should provide free care for 4 hours a week. At first, we had very little attendance. One strategic phone call changed everything. I told the case worker in the emergency room that I would be interested in seeing patients who were not true emergencies. From that point on, patients who were uninsured and not emergencies were referred to the clinic. The clinic has had a full roster ever since, serving 20-30 people a week. It was a double win situation. The emergency room wanted to treat only emergencies. We wanted to provide continuity of care to those who could not afford care. Because the patients were uninsured, other providers in the area did not object.
One housekeeper came for burns on 30% of her body. Because she did not want a big emergency room bill, she delayed getting medical attention. By the time we saw her, the wounds were infected but salvageable. We showed the daughter how to do wound care and gave her samples of antibiotics and burn cream. She healed completely. Another man is a struggling doctoral student in divinity. He comes for counseling. One woman is a mama-sitter. This means that she sits for elderly people. She has simple hypertension, follows a diet, exercises but cannot afford to do her basic laboratory body maintenance (e.g. cholesterol check). We supply her medication through patient assistance drug programs and samples. We also notify her when various agencies are doing free screening for cholesterol and other body maintenance checks. Another patient is an alcoholic who comes to learn how to cope with an overbearing mate. Another comes for a physical for college. One man comes because he can’t afford his diabetic medication. He is legally blind because he has allowed his uncontrolled diabetes to cause irreversible damage to the retina (retinopathy). Another comes because she has recurring nightmares after being held at gun point at a gas station. She comes for prayer and counseling. Each patient is offered a chance for prayer during the visit. Most accept and ask for this service.
To introduce patients to Orthodoxy, icons are placed in the rooms and Orthodox materials designed for beginners are placed in the waiting room. Materials are often loaned out or can be bought in the Sts Cosmas & Damian bookstore which resides in the office. The question I get the most is how does a doctor in a small town, where there is no Orthodox church, become Orthodox. For me, the journey begins and ends with the grace of God, who rides on Cherubim, whose ways cannot be known, whose blood my soul redeems, whose body turns my tares to wheat, whose love is so wide, you can’t get around it, whose right hand finds and guides me though I “take up my wings towards the dawn, and make mine abode in the uttermost parts of the sea...” (Psalm 138, Septuagint).
The clinic was recently featured in an article by Long (2006) in BusinessAlabama. As a consequence, several providers called to find out how to set up an affordable clinic in their towns. One incredulous office manager inquired as to how I obtained such a large grant to support the clinic. In the words of Jesus Christ, I replied: “Freely ye have received, freely give...” (Matthew 10:8).
May the prayers of the Holy Unmercenaries and Abba Moses be with us.