Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Good Samaritan

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

This is the article I wrote for Good Samaritan:

If the name itself doesn’t tip you off that The Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett isn’t your typical medical office, a look around inside surely will. On the bulletin board is a poster of the Ten Commandments. Alongside it is a Bible verse, Galatians 5:22-23, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The examination rooms are decorated with hand-painted murals of scenes from the great stories of the Bible, and of course there’s a painting of the Good Samaritan kneeling down to help the wounded man in the road. It hangs prominently in the waiting room.

I sat down with Dr. Jake Varghese one morning to learn more about Good Samaritan. He explained that the idea of the health center was born in 2003 after a group of physicians volunteered to staff booths at a health fair during the Unite Compassion in Action weekend. Set up on a tennis court, it didn’t take long for lines to form at the temporary clinics, making it clear to all there was a great need in the community for healthcare for the poor and uninsured. “Everyone turned to each other and said, ‘Doing this once a year isn’t enough, these services need to be available every day’,” Dr. Varghese said. Soon a planning committee was formed to determine how to accomplish just that.

“I’ve always had a heart for missions,” he added. “I had plans to finish medical school, go into private practice for a while, and then travel to other countries to serve after I’d paid off my student loans. I strongly believed God had given me the gift of medicine and I should be looking for ways to serve Him with my skills.”

But, as we all know, God doesn’t operate on our time lines; He called the young doctor to His Purpose a number of years sooner than anyone expected.

“An Elder of Perimeter approached me and asked if I would be interested in working with the soon to open Good Samaritan Health Center. My wife and I prayed about it and realized we couldn’t wait for me to do missions work at a later time, the needs were evident in our community right then.”

I asked how difficult it has been for him and his family to forgo the lucrative rewards of private practice even though he was burdened with medical school debt. Dr. Varghese’s answer was swift. “There are days when it is hard, but I know I am where I am supposed to be,” he said. “I promised myself I would never work in a job if I didn’t wake up in the morning looking forward to going to work. I look forward to going to work at Good Samaritan. Here we open the doors and pray with our patients. Here we can bring them to Christ, which is my reward.”

Opening its doors in 2005, Good Samaritan’s mission is to demonstrate the love of Christ in word and deed by providing affordable, quality primary healthcare to those in need. Its clients are the indigent, homeless, and working poor, many of whom are single parents with no insurance and are unable to qualify for government assistance. For many who might otherwise go without basic medical care, Good Samaritan offers primary care services for clients from birth to the end of life. It is the aim of Good Samaritan Gwinnett to not only meet physical needs but to also address the spiritual needs of its patients through prayer and biblical counseling.

“All of our staff and volunteers are Believers and are encouraged to share their testimony with clients and to pray with them during their visits. We are active in the commission we believe God has asked us to do.” Today the health center serves over 5,000 patients.

In addition to being a distinctively Christian medical practice, Good Samaritan operates like a traditional medical practice, not a walk-in clinic. Establishing relationships with their clients, Dr. Varghese and his staff continues to treat them on an on-going basis. Uninsured patients have a “medical home” where they receive quality care in times of health and sickness. Patients diagnosed with a chronic disease benefit greatly from the continuity of care and an established physician-patient relationship.

New patient registration is held on the first day of every month, and typically a line forms at the front door even before the health center is open. “In the last few months,” Dr. Varghese said, “the need has grown so significantly we now have a line wrapped around the building on registration day. And for the first time we are seeing not only the poor and indigent, but also families who have recently lost jobs and insurance.” Fifty to sixty new patients are enrolled each month, and still demand is on the rise.

With the increased demand for services, additional volunteers are needed, as well as additional donations to supplement a dip in patient revenues as, during these trying financial times, patients find it more and more difficult to pay their already reduced fees.
Given the population Good Samaritan serves, over eighty-percent of its budget comes from church, private and corporate donations, and grant monies. Only six of its staff are employees; the remaining forty people serving the health center do so as volunteers. We are grateful to Perimeter church,” Dr. Varghese added. “It has been a huge supporter of Good Samaritan, and a number of its members are physicians who help us as they can.”

Yet even more help is needed, Dr. Varghese points out.

“A real need we have is to find specialists in the community who understand our mission and will accept an occasional referral from us. Now and then we see patients who need to see a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, or a neurologist, but recognizing their circumstances, we want to send them to other doctors who will shepherd them as we do.”

I left Good Samaritan just as Dr. Varghese began to gather his staff for a morning devotional before opening the doors to begin their day of service. On my way out I saw that a line had already begun to form. A grandmother with a small child in arms smiled as I exited the building. I drove home thinking about what I might do to support Dr. Varghese and his efforts.

I’ve always loved the parable about the Good Samaritan, Jesus’ lesson to us illustrating that kindness and mercy must be available to everyone. "Go and do likewise," Jesus said.

I hope that you too will think about how you can support Dr. Varghese and the Good Samaritan Health Center.

Good Samaritan is seeking Christian professional volunteers from the medical, dental, optometry and counseling fields, as well as interpreters, qualified medical office staff and technical support. For more information about volunteer positions, contact Monica Piggott, 678.280.6630, ext. 104, or monica@goodsamgwiennett.org.

Learn more about Good Samaritan Health Center by visiting its website: http://www.goodsamgwinnett.org/

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

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