Foundation board approves $400,000 to purchase custom-built mobile medical clinic to assist those in need
As the 83rd anniversary of St. Mary’s Hospital’s opening was marked April 22, the founding Sisters of Mercy were at work putting the finishing touches on a new health care ministry for East Tennessee.
And just as the hospital was developed in 1930 to serve those in need of quality care, the Sisters of Mercy are building St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic that will bring medical care to those in need throughout the Diocese of Knoxville.
Members of the St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation board on April 17 gave final authorization to buy a specially outfitted mobile clinic that will travel around the diocese, bringing much-needed physician and nursing services to underserved areas.
Following the 2011 sale of St. Mary’s Hospital and its ancillary facilities by Mercy Health Partners to for-profit Health Management Associates, funding from Mercy Health Partners, its parent Catholic Healthcare Partners, HMA and The Mercy Foundation created St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation, which is a continuation of the Sisters of Mercy’s legacy.
The foundation’s mission is to provide direct support for charity, health care and education through Catholic organizations serving those in need in East Tennessee. In December, the foundation granted $625,000 to area organizations, including St. Anthony Bread food bank in Mountain City, the Ladies of Charity in Knoxville and Hands of Christ food pantry in Rutledge, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, and the diocese’s Office of Health Services, which oversees the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic.
As part of the effort, Bishop Richard F. Stika appointed Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, to head the Office of Health Services. Sister Mariana is a medical doctor who is with the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich. As she directs the Office of Health Services and the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, Sister Mariana points to the need for the medical ministry because Tennessee ranks 39th among all states in overall health care, according to America’s Health Rankings, with a 44th ranking in diabetes, 41st ranking in cardiac health, and 48th in high blood pressure.
She also points out that 29 of the 36 East Tennessee counties in the Diocese of Knoxville are in medically underserved areas that potentially can be served by the mobile clinic.
“It’s God’s providence that he’s asking us to do this within the Year of Faith in the Catholic Church. What the Year of Faith is for us is how do we express ourselves as Catholics as part of our motivation for being in love with Christ, that we go out and we live our faith out in the community. So first of all, we are rooted in proclaiming Jesus Christ and by doing that we go out and want to help those that don’t have the same needs and basic necessities of life that the rest of society has, so it’s part of our outreach and mission of faith to do a mission of charity,” Sister Mariana said.
Still in development, the mobile clinic is expected to be operational and road-ready in the fall. At that point, the clinic, staffed with medical professionals, will be dispatched to underserved areas, typically outside metropolitan areas like the Tri-Cities, Chattanooga and Knoxville.
“We know that in many metropolitan areas across the diocese, health care access is usually quite good. But as you move out into the underserved populations in outlying counties, you find a significant opportunity to serve those who are underinsured, or uninsured, or just lack access to health care. Today in East Tennessee, 29 of the 36 counties we serve are considered medically underserved and that continues to be a difficult situation for us to address. So, through the gift of the St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation and St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, it’s really exciting to be delivering health care in these underserved communities,” said John Deinhart, director of the diocese’s Office of Stewardship and Development and a staff officer with the St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation.
The Diocese of Knoxville has formed the St. Luke Guild, which is a network of volunteer medical professionals across the diocese to staff the clinic as it visits different areas. The guild is recruiting volunteers to serve the clinic.
“It’s a very exciting project because we know there are so many needs out there and there are people who can utilize these services. We’re excited that we’ve been gifted with this opportunity to meet some of those needs,” Sister Mariana said.
Sister Mary Martha Naber of the Sisters of Mercy that have served St. Mary’s for decades, welcomes the opportunity to advance the Sisters of Mercy work begun by Mother Catherine McAuley in Ireland in the 1800s. Sister Mary Martha is one of five Sisters of Mercy continuing in ministry at the former St. Mary’s Hospital, now called Tennova Physicians Regional Medical Center.
“I think it will be very unique to our area because in the past, health care has traditionally been based within a hospital setting. Of course, some hospitals have outreach clinics, but this is an opportunity not only to focus on the needs of people within a metropolitan area, but to go out into those counties that do not have health care available to them. Really, it’s a new initiative, and instead of people coming to us in a hospital, we’re going to their communities and addressing their needs,” Sister Mary Martha said.
Sister Mariana and Sister Mary Martha said as the medical initiative gets off the ground, the Legacy Clinic staff will work with communities in scheduling visits and locations where the mobile clinic will be. They said the clinic will offer primary care to the underserved communities on a regular, rotating basis throughout the year and also will act as a referral service to area specialists and hospitals if patients require more extensive care.
“We will be offering services primarily that are addressing urgent needs—like diabetes or high blood pressure. Maybe they haven’t been to a doctor in a while. We will be trying to get those people to come in to be checked and then followed on a regular basis, perhaps weekly or monthly,” Sister Mary Martha said.
Mr. Deinhart said a key aspect of the project is that it is a continuation of the Sisters of Mercy mission that will look different going forward so St. Mary’s legacy can live on in a different way. Another important aspect, he said, is that financial gifts to the St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation will be vital to supporting the clinic and enabling it to expand.
Anyone interested in learning more about the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, the St. Luke Guild, or the St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation is urged to call the Diocese of Knoxville at 865-584-3307 or visit the diocesan website at www.dioknox.org.