By AT News Team, May 28, 2015: The same week that a free clinic served thousands in Harare, Zimbabwe, reports emerged of a similar project by an Adventist university in Mexico and a local newspaper in Dalton, Georgia, reported that Adventist Health System (AHS) is helping a small town save its hospital. These events illustrate once again that one of the ways in which the Adventist faith makes its greatest impact is in health care.
“Rural hospitals across the [United States] are facing increased financial pressure,” stated the Dalton Daily Citizen, “but officials say they believe a recently approved agreement between the Hospital Authority of Murray County and Adventist Health System will allow Murray Medical Center to not only survive but prosper in years to come.” Unlike the short-term clinics in Zimbabwe and Mexico, the rural Georgia project involves a daily presence by AHS for years to come.
“We believe they are going to improve all services that we currently provide and they will be adding services,” the newspaper quoted a local civic leader in reference to the Adventist health ministry. “The know how to run a hospital. They turned around Gordon Hospital [in Calhoun, another Georgia small town] and we think they will do the same thing for us,” stated Randall Richards, chairman of the County Hospital Authority.
On May 1 the state regulators approved a five-year lease of the hospital by AHS which was negotiated late last year. The Adventist organization has paid off $5.1 million in debt and “as soon as they took over day-to-day operations they began bringing in new equipment, include a mobile MRI and new beds and furniture for the patient rooms,” according to the newspaper. The 43-bed hospital is small and without the larger resources and expertise that the Adventist team brings to town, it would probably have closed. Some 50 rural hospitals have closed in the U.S. since 2010, according to a recent report from the Associated Press.
Some 135 teachers and students from Linda Vista Adventist University in Chiapas State, Mexico, treated more than 800 residents of Rincon Chamula, a barrio with a population of 1,500 located three kilometers (1.5 miles) from the campus. First a team from the university met with community council members and got the collaboration of Celin Clemente Vargas, the top public health official in the area. Vargas provided six physicians and medical supplies to assist the volunteers.
Chiapas State is one of the poorest in Mexico, located along the international border with Guatemala where the drug trade and violence are problems as well as poverty. The Adventist university has had conflicts with the local residents in the past. “We had not taken intentional actions to connect with them and develop good relations in the past,” Raul Lozano, university president, told the Adventist News Network (ANN).
Southeast Adventist Hospital, located 130 kilometers (80 miles) away in Villahermosa, provided volunteer physicians, dentists and optometrists. The free clinic provided medical checkups, dental work, eye exams, lab tests and specialized care for women and children. Students from the nutrition and medical technology programs at the university also provided nutrition counseling, medications, haircuts and donated clothing.
The clinic was such a success that the university is developing a long-term relationship with the community. The plan next semester is for student volunteers to help clean up the streets, paint and repair dilapidated buildings and help with construction projects, as well as continued health services and health education events. The university president said that the effort had only just begun, ANN reported.
Whether it is a city in Zimbabwe alongside an evangelism campaign or a rural hospital in the United States or a village in Mexico, Adventists can be mobilized to meet the health needs of entire communities. That is one of the missionary traditions of the Adventist denomination that remains strong in today’s world.