On health care, some yap while others act

Last week, I watched two groups of people hold passionate discussions about health care.

During one, doctors, pastors and patients swapped stories of inspiration and altruism, urging everyone to help as many people as possible.

During the other, politicians tried to persuade one another to help fewer. A plan was afoot to help 1 million people. But most of the politicians wanted to scale the help back — by as much as 90 percent.

At one, attendees talked about a moral obligation to help their fellow man and serve a higher power.

At the other, leaders demonstrated their desire to seek higher office.

The first event was a fundraiser for Shepherd's Hope — a faith-based model of providing health care to Central Floridians that has become a national role model.

The other was the legislative session in Tallahassee, where politicians are scrambling for excuses to turn away billions of dollars in federal money to provide health care for the poor.

Both groups of people often quote Scripture.

Only one of them lives the Gospel.

Shepherd's Hope is one of Central Florida's homegrown triumphs.

Sixteen years ago, the Rev. Bill Barnes of St. Luke's United Methodist Church felt called to help the sick and needy around him — in a big way.

Through the years, Barnes' vision blossomed into a network of four clinics, staffed by more than 2,000 volunteers. Doctors, nurses, office workers, assistants and more.

They now serve more than 20,000 patients a year. And the success stories will bring tears to your eyes. A former executive, hit hard by the recession, lost her job and house, then learned she had cancer. A woman who experienced rapid weight gain — only to have doctors at Shepherd's Hope discover she had a 32-pound ovarian tumor.

They are stories of lives saved.

And when a roomful of health-care execs, business leaders, philanthropists and concerned citizens heard those stories in the ballroom at Church Street Station last Thursday morning, they responded with more than $170,000 in donations.

Now, the cavalier may simply say: Good, that's the way it should be. Private donations should serve that need.

Such a convenient sentiment.

The reality is that, no matter how hard Shepherd's Hope works, the line of patients at the clinics far exceeds the number that can be served on any given evening. They are often single moms who pulled their kids out of school early, hoping to see a doctor who might tell them why their little one can't hear or breathe properly.

That is why compassionate societies provide safety nets. It is also why this country has twice voted for a president who vowed to address that problem.

Yet leaders in Florida are fighting that initiative tooth and nail.

 

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