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CrossOver appeal

"CrossOver appeal" Continued...

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," Sept. 26, 2009

For example, Jannuzzi and director Julie Bilodeau helped to organize an in-house community pharmacy for $3,000 when a consultant told them they would need $400,000 to do it. Richmond's other free clinics now use CrossOver's pharmacy. Bon Secours, one of the major Richmond hospital groups, bought the building for CrossOver's clinic, and Chippenham, another local hospital, does the organization's lab work at no charge-which has added up to about $800,000 worth of work a year, "more than they bargained for," said founder Rivers.

"When I hear that the healthcare system is broken, it disturbs me that they use that term," he added. "All we've had to do over the years is to say I've got a patient who needs help and people have been willing to open the doors and let them in."

CrossOver enjoys generosity not just from prosperous hospitals (which get tax write-offs), but also from some of its clients. The clinic asks patients to give a donation when they visit, and in 2007 received that way a total of $80,000. Patients may make a donation years after their visits-one former patient who got a job as a security guard sent the clinic $100 from his first paycheck. Another, Jerome Runner, who received treatment for HIV at the clinic, left all of his money to CrossOver when he died-$87. The ministry named one of its clinics after him.

The ministry administers a thorough financial screening process that, among other things, requires each patient to have a household income at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. In years past, most of the clinic's patients have been immigrants, but now doctors are seeing more U.S. citizens. In this recession, director Bilodeau said, doctors are seeing "people who a year ago thought they were doing OK."

Patient visits have gone up 25 percent this year, "testing the limits," Jannuzzi said, and CrossOver has opened two other clinics in the city. It now relies on 30 full-time and part-time employees and a network of volunteers to serve not only its 4,300 regular patients but thousands more through a training program it has developed for inter-community health care (see sidebar).

A report by the Virginia Health Care Foundation showed about 15 percent of adults in Virginia to be uninsured: That was in 2007, before job losses from the recession kicked in. That's similar to the national percentage, though some say the number is inflated because it includes illegal immigrants. Virginia has the second-most free clinics of any state in the country.

Though CrossOver doctors don't sit down and present the gospel to patients, Jannuzzi said they offer what is missing in much of the healthcare system, compassion born of faith: "I think a lot of what we do is sort of pre-evangelism, you know, by seeing people for free, telling them that God loves them." Patients, Rivers said, want "to be dealt with in more than just medical ways." Physicians will pray with patients if they ask for it, and Christian reading materials sit out in clinics.

Local churches from many denominations both in Richmond and in its suburbs are involved with CrossOver, which hosts "mission trips": Local churches send their medical professionals and other volunteers to run the clinic on Saturday mornings. It's a popular way to do medical missions without taking physicians away from demanding schedules: One church on a Saturday last fall sent 17 medical personnel.

Rivers, reflecting on his quarter-century of CrossOver experience, said, "If it were not for this ministry, I would not have been able to go out and meet people from all over the city and take care of them. I would have been in my practice. . . . God's using it as a platform for a lot of people to get involved with other people. That's probably the best thing that it's done for the city."
For more information on this year's Hope Award for Effective Compassion and to read profiles of other nominated organizations from this year and previous years, click here.

Sharing knowledge

Conseulo Segura, 46, from El Salvador, works for the U.S. Postal Service at night. During the day she volunteers for CrossOver, sometimes as a Spanish interpreter. On one Saturday this summer she chatted with me and threw out directions in Spanish as prepared dishes arrived for a special CrossOver celebration.

The dinner was to celebrate the graduation of 25 Spanish speakers from the organization's lay healthcare promoter program, a 10-week evening course that has made them fluent in nutrition, hygiene, prenatal care, recognizing signs of abuse, and doing basic check-ups. The program, designed by a nurse who experienced a similar program in African villages, requires graduates to share what they've learned with their neighbors, making them viruses of health information.

Spanish-speaking teacher Karen Bunn told me that she began the course by telling students, "The key to health is that God is the center of your life." Over the 10 weeks class members made 2,700 health visits in their neighborhoods, invading supermarkets and drugstores to check blood pressures and talk about what smoking does to lungs. One of the graduates, Maira Ortiz, decided to give up a lifetime of smoking after the class.

As we spoke, the fellowship hall in a Spanish-speaking Catholic church filled with husbands in suits, wives in high heels with their hair done up, and antsy children. The program has produced 161 graduates in three years, and they know lives will be saved: "It will be an honor for me to share this knowledge," graduate Jhoni Brocos said solemnly.

Everyone dug into dishes from South America and Mexico paired with lime green punch. Segura graduated several years ago and takes opportunities to instruct diabetics-she tells them to "keep food in their pockets"-and those with high blood pressure: "You need potassium-eat a banana."

Some insured Americans may be hypochondriacs, but doctors find the opposite problem in Hispanic communities, where people generally don't seek help until they have very serious health problems. Basic care becomes that much more important. The male graduates of the program said when they use the restroom they tell other men to "lavese las manos" (wash your hands) and get odd looks, but they also have the reputation now as people who know what they're talking about.

CrossOver

Mission: "We are called to provide health care, promote wellness, and connect community talents and resources with people in need in the name of Jesus Christ."

Vision: "A healthy, vibrant community where every person is restored by the compassionate, healing love of God."

• Thirty full-time and part-time employees, and more than 350 volunteers.

• CrossOver does not accept federal funds. Its broad base of donors, according to Dr. Jannuzzi, makes the ministry "a private sector solution to treating the uninsured."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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