Ministry With: Fellowship Health Clinic
Ann McCullen, executive director of Edwards Street Fellowship Center, runs her ministry to help alleviate the impact of poverty on health care.
The intersection of poverty and healthcare are deeply tangled.
People experiencing poverty are less likely to seek out preventative care or medical treatment because of frequently climbing costs.
Unfortunately, people experiencing poverty are also more likely to require medical attention due to health concerns born in part from economic challenges.
Delaying preventative measures or ignoring existing ailments, however, may eventually result in much higher costs than seeking care early on.
Additionally, statistics show that a majority of families in the United States are one emergency away from financial devastation.
A ministry in Mississippi is addressing this intersection between poverty and healthcare. We talked to Ann McCullen, Executive Director of Edwards Street Fellowship Center, to learn more.
Tell us about the ministry.
Edwards Street Fellowship Center was established as a United Methodist community center in 1979. The center is located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where 37% of the children live in poverty, 35% of adults are obese, 23% of residents are food insecure, and 16% of those under age 65 have no health insurance. (Statistics: www.countyhealthrankings.org.) With an array of well-established ministries—a food pantry, community gardens, thrift store, and programs for senior adults and children– the center began offering free medical services in 2015 through a new initiative called Fellowship Health Clinic.
What dream is the ministry pursuing?
Edwards Street Fellowship Center has been the area’s largest food pantry for years, distributing food to an average of 1,500 households per month. Realizing this was addressing only one need for low-income families in the community, the center looked for a way to bring health and independence to those in need. With the opening of Fellowship Health Clinic, uninsured adults now have access to high quality medical, dental, and pharmaceutical care at no cost. The clinic is committed to treating everyone who visits– patients, volunteers, staff, and guests – with dignity and respect in the spirit of the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
When “Kathy” arrived at Fellowship Health Clinic seeking a doctor’s appointment, she was at the end of her rope. She’d lost her husband, her home, and all her belongings in a house fire nine months earlier. Before that tragedy, Kathy had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and diabetes. She confided to Fellowship Clinic nurses that she had planned to end her life, but someone had urged her to reach out to the free clinic as a last resort for prescription assistance and regular medical care. After only six months with the clinic, Kathy was taking her medications, monitoring her health conditions, and eager to begin looking for a job.
What have your neighbors (those utilizing services) taught you from doing this work?
How someone is treated often means more than the services they’re receiving. In the words of our clients and patients: “I had seen other doctors before. But I felt like nobody was really listening to me, to what my problems were. When I came here, the nurse said, ‘Don’t worry,’ and she gave me a hug! Then I knew I was in the right place– that somebody really cared about me. And nobody had before.” (Fellowship Health Clinic patient)
What challenges have you encountered and how have you adapted?
Before we opened our doors, we did not know how many people would be seeking medical, dental, and prescription services at Fellowship Health Clinic. We decided to roll out programs in “baby steps,” offering one facet of our services at a time. In retrospect, that was one of the wisest moves we made. It allowed us to fine-tune procedures and effectively respond to patients’ needs in each area before adding more services.
What advice would you give to others who are working to be in ministry with?
Since our agency’s founding in the late 1970’s, we have followed the model of asking people in our community what services and programs they desire and need. We glean that information through conversations and surveys. To ensure community members have a voice in our operations, our bylaws specify that “board membership will be inclusive of age, race, gender, educational background, and economic status with an intentional effort to include members from the community being served by Edwards Street Fellowship Center.” We’ve learned that although we staff members and volunteers think we know what would improve life for our neighbors, no one is going to support or attend an activity that they don’t perceive as filling a need in his or her life. So it’s better to ask our neighbors what they need and work side by side to find a solution!