Shepherd’s Hope had a very spiritual beginning. It started in the summer of 1996, along a beach in Sanibel Island, Florida, where the Pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Dr. Williams S. Barnes, was vacationing. While walking alone on the beach, thinking and meditating as he often does on vacation, Dr. Barnes became aware that God was calling, directing him to do something for individuals and families who need medical care and have nowhere to turn. Dr. Barnes knew and trusted that when the time was right, God would lead the way. He brought back the message, first to some key members of his congregation, and then to the church as a whole. Miraculously, the people, the places and pieces all came together, so that in six months, the first Shepherd’s Hope Health Center – staffed completely by volunteers – opened its doors.
As word got around about this new, volunteer health care center, the response was overwhelming. Families were driving long distances to be seen for free by the doctors, nurses and other volunteers who were donating their time to serve uninsured, low-income families in need of medical care. Other faith congregations in the area saw what was happening, knew of the need and they also responded. Today, Shepherd’s Hope operates five medical health centers.
Shepherd’s Hope relies on strong partnerships within the local community to ensure its services reach those most in need. Each Shepherd’s Hope Health Center is the result of a partnership between a faith community, school or facility partner, and hospital. The houses of faith are the primary resource for volunteer doctors, nurses and other lay volunteers who, through their faith commitment, regularly staff a health center, which typically are open several evenings each week. Currently mosque or community agency houses the health center by donating clinic space in existing facilities that are available during certain hours. Area hospitals accept referrals without compensation for routine laboratory and radiology services. In many cases, county health agencies provide follow-up and specialty services for patients who need more advanced care, such as neurological or orthopedic consultation and even surgery.
Patients who are eligible for services through Shepherd’s Hope have income at or below 200% of the poverty level, are uninsured and not eligible for government assisted health care programs. Utilizing these criteria, Shepherd’s Hope has provided over 300,000 free medical visits and patient services since first opening in 1997. While health care access for the uninsured is a much discussed national priority for many Americans, Shepherd’s Hope is offering a faith-based model that can be replicated in local communities across the United States, bringing hope and healing to many in need.