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Physical, spiritual health important to Little Rock ministry

First mission held at Little Rock parish to address diabetes for vulnerable population

Published: March 19, 2021      
Aprille Hanson Spivey
St. Theresa Medical Mission volunteers Americo Sekely and Hilda Ortega help client Marcalina Guerra (left) enter her medical history. Guerra was one of 46 clients who visited the March 13 mission in Little Rock.

After getting her blood pressure taken at the St. Theresa Medical Mission, Marcalina Guerra said the mission was a vital outreach to the community.  

“We don’t have any place to get medical advice we need,” she said through a translator of the safe space the mission provided March 14.

Forty-six people were seen during the first medical mission organized at St. Theresa Church in Little Rock by the nonprofit Divine Mercy Health Center, with volunteers from St. Theresa and Christ the King Church in Little Rock. 

The mission, focused on diabetes, was eight hours on Saturday, and also held a healthy cooking demonstration and provided groceries for clients who are food insecure. 

“We challenged our board of directors: If Jesus created a health care system, what would it look like? This is it. He comes in and elevates the people to serve one another.” Dr. Lee Wilbur, founder of the nonprofit Divine Mercy Health Center

Founded by Dr. Lee Wilbur, the faith-based non-profit strives to transform a person’s physical, mental and spiritual health by looking through the lens of the God-given dignity of each client. It has been years in the making. Throughout his 17-year medical career, currently as an emergency room physician at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock, Wilbur has noticed large gaps in the health care system for the most vulnerable. 

The nonprofit was incorporated three years ago, and in 2020, it started fundraising. The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. 

“I went to adoration, and I was really stressed,” said Wilbur, a parishioner at Christ the King Church in Little Rock. “‘God, you got to help me out; what do I do?’ I opened up the Bible randomly to see what Scripture came out and the Scripture that came out spoke of discipleship. You have to take this to the people. You don’t build a center first.” 

That same day in late 2020, Betty Jo King, director of the Missions Board at Christ the King, called him and said St.Theresa Church was interested in a medical mission focused on diabetes. It solidified the vision shift to setting up medical missions at parishes or other faith communities in Pulaski County.

“We challenged our board of directors: If Jesus created a health care system, what would it look like? This is it,” Wilbur said. “He comes in and elevates the people to serve one another. We’re coming in and training the parishioners to deliver this model to our fellow brothers and sisters.”

The mission focuses on four steps: 

  • Biometric screening, recorded in their Journey to My Best Health book and the center’s online system.

  • A personal, spiritual, mental and social health inventory interview and goal-setting. It focuses on social determinants, including food insecurity, lack of access to affordable housing and safety at home.

  • Diabetic screening.

  • An exit interview and praying the Divine Mercy Health Center patient prayer. 

Trained volunteers at St. Theresa handled most of the March 13 mission, while a health professional oversaw the medical screenings. 

“Patients are often thrown into this very fragmented system, and it’s nearly impossible to navigate yourself and we don’t want our patients to feel that way,” Wilbur said.  

Wilbur said diabetes is common among people in the 72209 zip code where St. Theresa is located.  

Lilian Orellana, leader of the parish’s medical mission, said many in “the Latino population do not have medical insurance, so they don’t have a physician or a primary care doctor. So we never know when they have high cholesterol; or they don’t want to go for how much they have to pay.” 

Volunteers can also direct clients to community resources and a doctor is on hand to evaluate any emergency consultations, such as for suicidal thoughts. The mission’s goal is not to replace a person’s doctor, but to be an added service, as they can take their Journey book with their medical history to any appointment. 

The parish’s mission can host educational classes or activities like Zumba. The Divine Mercy Health Center will connect with the parish once a month, with missions hosted four times a year. 

“We’re going to try and help them in different ways, but we have to have this (mission) to know what is the need of the people,” Orellana said. 

Because a building with physicians and health care workers is a goal down the road, Wilbur said they hope to find area doctors, dentists and mental health professionals to offer services. 

“A ‘take one’ campaign; we hope to ask primary care practices across Pulaski County if they could take one patient, assumed to be uninsured,” for a typical checkup and lab work twice a year, he said. “Could you take that on in your practice, with an inability to pay? Also dentists and mental health providers. If we can get these practices to agree … we’ve really done a lot.” 

Parishes or health care providers who want to get involved or donate can email . More information can be found on the Divine Mercy Health Center Facebook page.

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