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Interfaith Service Kicks Off Congregations for Caring

Photo provided Congregations for Caring members joined recently to plan a fourth year of a multi-denominational effort to support Wheeling Health Right. Pictured, from left, are Kelly Clutter-Brown, Joyce Bibey, Cynthia Morrison, Kathie Brown, Roanne Burech, the Rev. Bob Willits, Lynne Exley, Rabbi Joshua Lief, Wendy Tronka, the Rev. George Smoulder and Dee Phillips. Not pictured is John Hargleroad.

Area faithful of all denominations will gather at Temple Shalom to offer prayers and thanks for the work in the community of Wheeling Health Right

The service at 6 p.m. Feb. 3 kicks off the fourth year that “Congregations for Caring — Blessings for Health Right” has brought together people of faith in an effort to support the clinic’s patients and mission.

The community-wide cooperative of faith communities, Congregations for Caring serves to raise awareness of the growing need for charitable health care options. In increasing numbers each year, local houses of worship have joined to make a difference in the lives of more than 23,000 Ohio Valley residents. Wheeling Health Right serves uninsured and underinsured residents of Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, and Tyler Counties in West Virginia and Belmont County in Ohio, and appreciates receiving financial support from the county commissions in Marshall, Wetzel and Belmont.

In 2019, more than 40 congregations participated in raising $23,675, an amount which directly provides for the care of 32 patients for one year (an average of $722 per patient) at the clinic.

Congregations for Caring Chairperson Lynne Exley said the result of the past three years of “Congregations for Caring — Blessings for Health Right” were progressively successful and heartening.

“It’s become apparent that hundreds of parishioners representing many denominations of faith find that Wheeling Health Right is worthy of their support,” Exley said. “We remain grateful for their prayers and continued support.”

This year’s Congregations for Caring effort may be the most meaningful one to date. In September, the need for Wheeling Health Right services moved to the forefront of the consciousness of clinic staff and officials, area residents, and other stakeholders in the collective health of the community.

The Upper Ohio Valley was rocked by the closure of two of the area’s three main hospitals, Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital, both of which had been acquired by for-profit healthcare management organization Alecto Healthcare Services two years prior.

When operations were suspended, more than 1,700 employees lost their jobs, approximately 300 medical providers were forced to suspend practice and relocate, leaving more than 30,000 local patients without emergency services, chronic illness management, prescription continuation, testing and laboratory services.

Wheeling Health Right began actively accepting new patients who are residents of Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler and Belmont counties that have been displaced by the closure of OVMC and EORH. The displacements are due to loss of health care provider by patients in general, or unemployment from those hospitals, former staff having been left with no insurance. In some cases, patients have sought only prescription refills in the interim between their doctors losing their offices/placements and establishing new locations. WHR regularly accepts new patients on an ongoing basis.

Exley said the group has three goals: To raise awareness, to garner financial support and to elicit widespread prayer.

But more importantly – and the main message of all major religions to treat others the way we would like to be treated – can be realized by the simple gestures undertaken in each individual congregation through this effort. Rabbi Joshua Lief of Temple Shalom said members of his congregation count Wheeling Health Right as a valuable community resource.

“Once, the Torah tells us to love your neighbor as yourself. But 36 times, the Torah tells to love the stranger,” Lief said. “As Jews, we see Congregations for Caring as an opportunity to put our values into action.”

Clinic Executive Director Kathie Brown said hospital closures like those experienced locally require free clinics like Wheeling Health Right to prepare for constant, significant transformation. “It’s more critical than ever that Wheeling Health Right continue to serve patients who find themselves in need of care they can’t afford,” Brown said. “As we celebrate 35 years of serving Ohio Valley residents, we are expanding our services to accommodate our patients’ growing needs. By helping our patients take care of their physical, mental and oral health, we are helping them remain employed, active members of the community.”

Congregations for Caring is currently recruiting churches, synagogues and civic groups to participate. The initiative offers bulletin inserts, reading materials and a yard sign to display. If your church or group is interested in becoming a Congregation for Caring and has not yet been contacted by a committee member, please contact Wheeling Health Right at 304-233-9323 to register.

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