The growing epidemic that is health insurance has many people wondering what to do and where to go. Shepherd’s Hope, a faith-based organization of volunteers that provides free health care for the uninsured, is one option for help.
Shepherd’s Hope was founded in 1997 by Dr. William Barnes after a walk on the beach and a message from God to help others, he said. That calling and what he thought would be a one-room clinic out of the church would evolve over 15 years into nine locations across Seminole and Orange counties.
“I had no idea it would be this big and successful,” Barnes said. “I thought I would just construct one room in the church.”
With the help of faith partnerships from local churches and area hospitals loaning laboratories and radiology services, Shepherd’s Hope has provided more than 100,000 free medical visits since opening.
Shari Vander Wiede, development director of Shepherd’s Hope, said in 2010, they had about 2,500 volunteers and saw 17,500 patients throughout all nine locations.
Marie Lorenzo, the clinic manager at the Dr. Diebel Jr. Memorial Shepherd’s Hope Health Center, said most of the patients who come are people who have lost their jobs. Common problems they arrive with are hypertension and diabetes.
Vander Wiede said that the public’s needs are increasing every year and that they are very careful with the donations they get.
“We do as much as we can with a much as we get,” she said.
They are exploring finding a new facility to move the health center from the Threshold Center for Autism, which is located at 3550 Goldenrod Road in Winter Park, which they have currently been renting out of for the last two years.
Vander Wiede said they hope to find a new location that is in the same area so they can stay and help those in need.
Health care epidemic
According to the 2009 Census, the latest numbers available, 45,664,741 Americans are without health insurance coverage and 6,369,023 of those are younger than 18; amounting to 15.1 and 8.6 percent of the entire nation respectively.
These people are who Barnes said fall through the cracks. He said that too many people don’t have enough money to buy health insurance and some make too much to qualify for government assistance.
“[Sheperd’s Hope] looks for gaps and finds people falling though and helps them,” he said.
One conscious health decision left Winter Park resident Joseph Muzyk, 49, uninsured and without work; a sad but common situation that many Americans face today in this uncertain economy.
A cardiac health issue forced him to leave a manual labor job for an office. Little did he know that the new job would not work out and he would be jobless and without health insurance for three months.
Now he must go to Shepherd’s Hope to receive care.
Muzyk, who was referred to Shepherd says he has had a wonderful experience.
“It is a nice thing for people without work or whatever,” he said. “It’s nice to know if you need help [you have somewhere to go].”
Kim Hartman, 48, a former medical assistant, made her first trip to Shepherd’s Hope on Feb. 1 after two visits to the emergency room. She said it is amazing what the doctors and nurses are doing.
“It’s a great idea, certainly better than the ER,” she said. “I know how it is to work all day and volunteer after.”
Clinic manager Lorenzo, a former administrative manager, said she decided to volunteer after beating breast cancer two times.
“God was good to me, and I decided it was time to give back,” she said.
Shepherd’s Hope locations:
• St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 2021 West State Road 426, Oviedo
• Fairmont Plaza, 600 N. U.S. 17-92, Longwood
• The Faith Assembly of God, 2008 N. Goldenrod Road, Orlando
• Hungerford Preparatory School, 100 E. Kennedy Blvd., Eatonville
Hours of operation at each site vary so call 407-876-6699 or visit shepherdshope.org. To become a volunteer, call 407-876-6699 extension 3 or email [email protected]