St. Joseph's Neighborhood Center

Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

May You Live In Interesting Times

Monday, April 17th, 2017

This phrase has popped into my head at several points in the last few weeks, probably because the daily news brings so many uncertainties about how health care, politics and economics will unfold in the United States and the world.

The popular notion about the origins of “May you live in interesting times” is that it is a Chinese curse linking interesting times with war. Not a nice thought, and there is actually no concrete link to it being of Chinese origins. I prefer to think of the phrase as a challenge to our creativity, capacity for critical thinking, and measured thoughtful response to a situation.

At the Center we have been asked many times about what our response would be to changes in health care coverage. After considered thought we have said that we will continue to do what we have always done, which is to remain nimble and flexible in responding to whatever needs our patients and clients present.

One of things we have always done is continually improve our ability to respond to needs. We are three weeks away from completing a two- year process of implementing our Electronic Health Records (EHR). Our unique array of comprehensive services presented a challenge to our vendor who worked with us to integrate health care, counseling, psychiatry, dental, social services and eligibility assessment, and scheduling into the same EHR software program. No software provider had done that before.

After a lot of customization of forms and workflows, the addition of many computers and other hardware and step-by-step training of over 100 staff and volunteers, we are LIVE. Immediate benefits to patients are evident as all providers involved in someone’s care can get comprehensive, up-to-the-minute information about a patient’s health status.

Another important ability we now have is to collect aggregate data on patient care, treatments and outcomes. This build-up of historic data enables us to track trends and patterns on patient needs and the effectiveness of treatment. We can also compare data to other care providers in our community.

On the one-to-one patient level, we have been reminded several times over the last two weeks of the impact of even one encounter leading to life saving interventions. Thanks to our incredible volunteers and our good relationship with Rochester General Hospital, two women were diagnosed with abdominal masses needing immediate attention, and within 24 hours they each had the necessary scans and imaging, and surgery was scheduled. Both these women were uninsured, one from Sierra Leone and the other from Ivory Coast. The staffs from the Center and RGH worked together to get them the financial coverage they would need for their care.

Another of our staff met a former patient at a Veterans outreach event. She said, “he looked like a different man,” and he reported to her that the care from all the “nice” people at the Center had helped him turn his life around and he is on a very good path now. He wanted to thank everyone.

I want to thank you for believing in and supporting the work of the Center. I truly see your support of the Center, whether financial, resources or time is not just a donation, but an investment in the future. Every day a positive difference is made in our patients’ and clients’ lives. We know there is not better short-term investment.

And, every day there is a another step taken at the Center in transforming the way health care is delivered; every day we build an integrated and comprehensive approach to delivery of services that we believe is the future of health care. We know there is no better long-term investment.

This is our Spring Appeal time. I ask you to make an investment in the short-term and long-term work of the Center. Thank you for believing in the possibility of better ways and better times.

— Christine Wagner, SSJ

On That Day

Monday, December 12th, 2016

There is so much unfolding in our world. Our national election has had an impact on us as a people that we have not seen in decades. Our Neighborhood Center family has been touched by the sudden, unexpected death of Sr. Magdalena Kellner. Magdalena volunteered daily for over 15 years serving as the secretary of the Counseling department, but doing so much more for us. We grieve her loss.

We celebrate the retirement of Julie Ruggiero after 15 years of creating our state-of-the art dental facility. Julie is off to grandmother duties, and we miss her terribly. Thank you, Julie, for almost single-handedly building our dental services.

Many, many more things have impacted us deeply. We find ourselves looking for even ground on which to get our bearings. Of course, that even ground is found by placing our trust in our God, and understanding that our world is filled with grace, and that grace comes through those we are with every day.

As we enter the Christian Advent season leading to Christmas, we pray for you and your families; for all our patients and clients who give us much more than they receive; we pray for world leaders that they may lead with insight and compassion.
Our gift to you is the following reflection on God’s kingdom come to fullness…

God’s spirit will let a white man or woman look into the eyes of a black man or woman and see their soul; it will let a black man or woman look into the eyes of a white man or woman and see their soul. And they’ll both know it’s the soul of another human.

God’s spirit will call the people from the East to join hands with the people from the West, and the people from the North to join hands with the people from the South and all will seek the other’s good. None will smite his brother or sister, nor deal deceit-fully. They will sing at their labors, and be thankful for the fruits of the fields and factories. Their soldiers will learn the arts of peace; their strong ones the ways of service. All will be spared the degradation of making implements of war and the agonizing orders to use them.

God’s spirit will join an old person’s wisdom with a young person’s strength and they will be partners for God. They will respect one another, and will be slow to take offense and quick to forgive. They will be as parent and child. The old will be filled with compassion and understanding, and the young with gentleness and loving concern. They will find joy in bearing one another’s burdens.
God’s spirit will give eyes to humankind with which to see the glory of God. God’s spirit will give ears to humankind to hear the sound of God’s trumpet as well as God’s still, small voice. God will dwell with us and be our God, and we shall be God’s people. God will wipe away our tears, dispel our doubt, remove our fears . . . and usher in the acceptable year.

Clarence Jordan, The Substance of Faith and Other Cotton Patch Sermons

— Christine Wagner, SSJ

The Power of Good and Evil

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Ziggy, the cartoon character, often climbs to the top of the mountain to seek the advice of “the Wise One.” He asks “What is the meaning of life?” Appropriately, there are comic answers to Ziggy’s inquiry. This question about the meaning of life has been asked for millennia. For me it is not the right question. My question is “What brings meaning to life?”

I got to this point of reflection after taking in all the violence and death we have been exposed to over the last weeks and months – Orlando, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, Rochester…. This has been exacerbated for me by speech that seems rooted in fear, hatred, blaming and division.

On several occasions over the last months, the staff and volunteers at the Center have come together to talk about racism and how it is manifested. We want to do all we can to uncover and eliminate any ways in which racism, or other social divisions might manifest themselves in our work. Last week we came together to comfort each other and share feelings about the string of violent incidents in our cities. It was a painful and important gathering. We will continue the conversation among us.

I personally reflected on the concept of hate, especially hate that is directed at those who are merely different. Hate is ugly; it can literally transform the face of the most beautiful people. Hate eats at the heart of those who hate. Hate has no useful purpose.

To my knowledge I have never been the object of hate. I am lucky. People I love and respect who are people of color, have described the consequences of hate directed at them 24/7 merely because of the color of their skin. If you are white, imagine being suspected, feared, intimidated, talked about, moved away from, excluded, harassed, profiled, and derided everywhere you go and wherever you are. I can never experience what it is to be a person of color, but I can be observant, empathetic, and a vocal ally when I see hatred and exclusion happen. I can look at my own behavior to check hatred and exclusion at the door.

There is power in good and power in evil. There are tools at the service of good and evil. The tools of evil include hatred, fear, division, labeling, fomenting suspicion, silence in the face of violence, neglect of others.

The tools of good include love, unity, naming evil, the works of mercy and justice, tending to the needs of the other, trusting, listening, respect. How to unleash the power of good is described in every scripture in every religion – Torah, New Testament, Qur’an, Vedas, Sutras and others.

We are in violent times. We have choices between good and evil many times a day. I am learning to ask myself, is my fear founded or unfounded in reality? Am I dividing or unifying with my action and words? Have I given into stereotypes and judged without learning facts first? What am I assuming about others that I have not checked out?

May we respond to the evil we see by unleashing the power of good using all the tools at our disposal. For me, this is what brings meaning to life – operating out of the power of love and unity.

Thank you for all the ways that you manifest that power of good and love by your generosity. Each gift, donation, hour of time is reaching out to those in need; is acting as the Gospel calls us to “that all may be one.”

Christine Wagner, SSJ

The Two Rules

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

We have what we call “the two rules” at the Neighborhood Center. We joke about them, but they really have their basis in being creative and being good community members. The first rule is, “If you think of it, you do it.” Whoops, some people say. Did I really say that idea out loud? Am I responsible for that idea now?

The gist of the rule is that an unspoken idea does no one any good. We encourage everyone to share the ideas they have, especially about how we could do something better or new in terms of services and care. Our commitment is to take each idea, play with it a bit, add to it, measure its feasibility and how it measures up to our mission, and then, together go forward with it. For some ideas their time has not come yet, and we tuck them away for the right time. The important thing is voicing the idea and weighing its merit.

The second rule is “If you don’t know what to do, vacuum.” Look around the Center, which is shared by over 200 people, and do what you see needs to be done. Empty or load the dishwasher, make a pot of coffee, empty the trash, bring in a treat, help sort donations, sit down and fold a few letters for a mailing, take the recycle cans and bottles back…there are so many things that can and need to be done for the sake of the community that shares the space, and we all need to pitch in.

These two rules keep us creative and clean. What else do we need? As you can guess, these rules really are about community and connected-ness. When we look outside of the Center, the same two rules apply. More and more we find ourselves at community tables where people are striving hard to tackle health care and social barriers with new and creative ideas. If the ideas of the wider community are not shared and developed and owned, we will be seeing the same disparities, divisions and despair in a year’s time; in five years’ time. If we only critique ideas and efforts, rather than try to engage and improve them, we have added nothing to the conversation nor to our community.

We are blessed to live in a community known for its commitment to volunteerism. It is all about rule number two. So many opportunities are out there for us to participate in: be a mentor, be a tutor, sort medical supplies at InterVol, sort donations at Foodlink, be a volunteer fireman, be a docent at the museum, arrange a neighborhood clean-up, collect food for a food pantry, cook a meal, visit someone young, old, sick. So many things, and, of course, we always have opportunities for you at the Center.

The point is we have so many ways to make and keep our community strong and strengthen relationships among us. What is coming up at the Center? We are planning for our June 1st Annual Event. The theme this year is “Heaven & Hell; Halos and Horns,” a fun way to look at the angels and devils in all of us. Our Spring Fundraising Appeal is launching and we hope you can participate, or think about donating through the community United Way campaign beginning now. Our donor option number is 2017.

We also need your help in letting people know about our services. If you know of anyone who is struggling with getting health care or counseling, please tell them to call the Center. If you know of any place where we could place cards or brochures to let people know about us, please call us with your idea, or write a note on the return envelope in your Newsletter. We will follow up.

Collectively, you are the “might of little forces” which gets big things accomplished. You have sustained the Center for years. Thank you, and we ask that you stay on the journey with us.

–Christine Wagner, SSJ

The Choices We Have

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

I was recently at a Healthcare Roundtable with a key note speaker from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. This Foundation is well known for innovative funding to large and small projects which will improve the overall health status of people. One phrase from her talk caught my attention because it so connected with our Rochester experience of intransigent poverty and local efforts to address it.

“The choices we can make are limited to the choices we have.” The Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative and ACT Rochester out of the Rochester Area Community Foundation have done a wonderful job of naming the measure of poverty that individuals and families live with on a daily basis. You have read the statistics: over half of our children live in poverty; Rochester is the fifth poorest city in the country, with the most people living in dire poverty.

“The choices we can make are limited to the choices we have.” Getting out of poverty in Rochester right now has much more to do with needed system change than individual choice. Poverty can come quickly, but it tends to hang around a long time.

We see this every day at the Neighborhood Center. People continue to make wrenching choices between health care insurance versus the other basics of life. This is despite the opportunities that the Affordable Care Act has put in place. The affordable choices are still limited for many people – you can’t choose something you have no financial access to.

The Center is currently accepting twice as many patients per month than we are discharging. We are enrolling people in primary health care, mental health counseling, to dental, chiropractic and other specialties because there are no other options available.

You continue to make this possible with your donations and gifts. Every gift counts towards the health of each of our patients and clients. Every gift impacts patient health and the ability of the Center to function at a high level of readiness and flexibility.

Thank you to those who have contributed to our Fall Appeal and to those who will. Thank you for participating in the fun of ROC the Day! It is an insane day for us as we try to get as many people involved in ROC Giving as possible. Thank you for responding to our wish list, these items are essential for our day to day operations.

Our wishes for you are happy holidays, grace poured out on you and your family, health and well-being in large measure and prospects of peace for our city, country and world. Thank you for all you do to care for those in our community, our neighbors.

–Christine Wagner, SSJ

There is always a story

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

It is 97° today. They say it will be in the 90s for the next few days. Sometimes these hot summer days are referred to as the “dog days of summer”. I always wonder where expressions like this come from. An article I recently read had the explanation. “The Greeks and Romans believed that Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation (Canis Major-Great Dog) ushered in an evil season in late summer, one that boiled seas and soured wine and sent people and livestock I into fits. In that season, the Dog Star and our sun hung together in the heavens, one rising, one setting, which, they believed, produced more heat than the planet could stand.”

We have a scientific explanation now for late summer heat, but the phrase is ours still. It is an old story with a truth that we understand.

Here’s another backstory. The Center is fortunate to participate in Panera Bakery’s “Day-end Dough-Nation” Program. Just like their TV ads say, each store, every night, gives away all the days remaining baked goods to a not-for-profit. Every Sunday night at closing, a Center staff person picks up every last crumb not sold during the day at the Twelve Corners Panera – bags and boxes of baked goods.

Last week in the mail, Panera corporate sent a form they needed completed for tax purposes. Included in the letter was an itemized list of all the baked goods we had received in 2014. With a value of almost $22,500 we had picked up and distributed to our clients 10,716 baked items. Now think about that donation happening from every store, every night, all year in the United States. Thank you Panera!

There is always a back story. There always seems to be “more to the story than meets the eye.” I have had the privilege over the past few weeks to work with a small team of people organizing and coordinating the new Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI). The Initiative is a pilot program out of the Governor’s office to comprehensively address deep rooted poverty. Rochester is the fifth poorest community of its size in the United States. Fifty-one percent of our children live in poverty. This entrenched poverty is documented, persistent and a scourge on our overall health as a community.

RMAPI seeks to be different than all other programs in the past. Past attempts which did not substantially move the poverty needle have led to some skepticism about RMAPIs chances. But, I see a widespread level of commitment at this opportunity that I have not seen before. And, I see community members who are impacted by poverty taking this effort seriously and taking part in the planning, organizing and implementing.

There are many moving parts to RMAPI. For me, the core story of the effort is the starting point – people from the community coming together, naming the barriers to rising out of poverty and naming the solutions to overcoming these barriers and formulating recommendations to implement the solutions.

Everyone is at the table, community members, all levels of government, business, human service agencies. As Phase I of planning wraps up, it is evident that the table needs to get bigger by the active participation of everyone in the Rochester-Monroe community.

The Neighborhood Center will stay at the table. As supporters, you are part of our backstory. We need you and your support to keep going on a daily basis, and to be part of the long-term solution to moving people out of poverty in our Rochester home. Thanks for being a part of the story. Keep cool!

–Christine Wagner, SSJ

Prayers of Healing

Friday, March 13th, 2015

There is a big yellow, wooden box in the waiting room at the Center. It has a slot in the top like a ballot box. The sign on top of the box invites any visitor to write the names of those for whom they wish health and healing on quarter size pieces of paper and place them in the box.

On the first Wednesday of every month at 10:00 AM a group gathers, usually staff, and spends time in meditative prayer with these requests. The context of our prayer is universal – a candle is lit recognizing each of the nine major world faith traditions – traditions that all worship the same God.

All present are also invited to write down the names of people they want to remember in healing prayer. Often we have 30-40 names. Each person’s name is spoken and they are envisioned in complete health of body, mind and spirit by the group assembled.

It is a powerful experience knowing that others have placed themselves and their loved ones in trust to the power of prayer and that we share belief in the one God who inspires people of faith everywhere.

Our model of services at the Center is built to be comprehensive and integrated. We often talk about the importance of a bio/psycho/social/spiritual approach to care. The spiritual can be manifested in many ways – praying with and for those we serve is a deep and rich experience. You are invited to this monthly prayer. You are also invited to let us know the names of those for whom you wish healing – whatever healing means. We will add their names to our prayer list.

You will find this Newsletter packed with information and updates – a testament to the committed spirit of those connected to the Center. I invite you to learn about our Health Access Department which daily guides people through the intricacies of finding health care. We are pleased to announce early details on our 21st Annual Party and Auction, this year chaired by our good friends Tom and Betty Richards.

Please take some time to read about the work we have embarked on in the area of diversity and race, about our 4th year medical students and their “CHIC” projects and our wonderful new relationship with the Garbach Family as they build a legacy in memory of their daughter Megan.

On the back of the Newsletter are two simple invitations to you: an invitation to breakfast on any third Wednesday of the month and an invitation to consider naming the Center as your United Way Donor Option. Our number is 2017. Thank you for the many ways you are grace to us – through your prayers, your gifts and donations; all the blessings you bring.

We have many exciting challenges ahead of us as we respond to needs in the community. Your support is essential because “Health Is A Community Effort.”

–Christine Wagner, SSJ

You Have No Idea…

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

I have to start this out with a huge thank you to everyone who has gifted the Center over the last several months. You have no idea how many lives you have touched, how many projects and programs you have supported, the ways that you have paved the road for innovation and creativity so that those who seek help will be assisted with what they need in the best way possible. Thank you for investing in the work of the Center. You have no idea.

The Affordable Care Act has helped thousands of people in New York State get insurance, either through Medicaid or purchasing an affordable Health Plan. But many people remain uninsured for a variety of reasons and because of your support we can maintain high quality services for these patients.

Many people have “insurance they cannot afford to use.” We hear stories on a daily basis of those who have insurance but they cannot afford the co-pays for some services such as mental health, physical therapy, chiropractic and dental. Because of your support we can offer these services at an affordable rate.

We have a Health Access Program, open to anyone in the community, where individuals can get assistance in determining their eligibility for public or private insurance, get help with applications, or choose the option to stay at the Center for health care. You have no idea how valuable your donations are in sustaining this level of assistance.

We depend on your donations from our wish list, everything from paper products and coffee, to over-the-counter medications and durable goods, to grocery gift cards, to ice melt for our winter icy sidewalks. You have no idea how much these things help in sustaining the mission.

Over the next few months we will be implementing an Electronic Medical Record system. This will enable us to enhance our patient care and tracking and give the patients and clients a better health care experience. The ability to collect and analyze data on our very particular population of uninsured and underinsured is valuable to community health planners to design systems for this “invisible” population. We are happy to be able to add valuable data for community planning. This is a $150,000 financial venture for us and we hope you can help with the EMR project which will launch us more effectively into the future.

Recently the Center was awarded the Farash Foundation Prize for Social Entrepreneurship. This prize recognizes innovative and impactful work that enhances the community in the long term. I hope that you know how much you share in this recognition. Without your support and belief in the work of the Center the past twenty years this would not have happened.

These are just a few exciting ways that you sustain our work and help us go into the future with a flexibility that these times call for. You have no idea the impact that your support makes now and into 2015. During this annual appeal time I want to thank you for considering your year-end gift to the Center. May you be blessed with the spirit of the season and grace-filled holidays.

–Christine Wagner, SSJ

But We’re Not Done Yet…

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Marie died last week. She was 103 years old, and our oldest volunteer. Up until a year and a half ago she came in faithfully several times a year to help get our newsletter ready for ailing – folding, stuffing, sealing, counting. After several hours, when her daughters would say it was time to go she would look around and say, “But, we’re not done yet.” To which they would respond, “We’ll be back tomorrow to finish,” and Marie would reluctantly concede to leaving for the day.

As is often the case with the elderly, a fall led to her decline and eventual journey to God. She is missed by many people and she has left her beautiful spirit in the world.

I think of Marie when people ask about the work of the Center these days and what the impact has been of the Affordable Care Act. Like Marie, I can say, “but our work is not done yet, far from it.”

The Center discharged about 250 individuals from our care either through expanded Medicaid eligibility limits or because people were able to purchase an affordable health care plan on the New York State Exchange. We assisted them with applications and selection and in finding new physicians.

Many of our patients and clients still found insurance products on the Exchange unaffordable for them and they are able to stay with us for their health care. We urge you to tell anyone you know who cannot afford insurance to call the Center for assistance.

We can also help people who have insurance but cannot afford to use the mental health, dental or chiropractic portions of their insurance because of unaffordable co-pays. We would rather see people receive these needed therapies than go without them. A call to the Center will determine eligibility.

There are successes every day at the Center of the large and small kind. In one week recently, your support and the incredible work of our volunteers wrought miracles that I would like you to know about.

A heart murmur was detected in a 57 year-old man by one of our Nurse Practitioners. He was seen at the Center within a week by a cardiologist, had an echocardiogram the next day and was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis with a need for open heart surgery. Charity Care was arranged at Rochester General Hospital and within three weeks he has had a successful procedure and is on the road to recovery.

A 26 year-old young man presented on a Monday with a very painful abscess. Our medical team was able to get him to a specialist on Tuesday, he had surgery on Thursday, just in time for his wedding on Saturday!!

A 32 year-old man with a blood clot in his calf and a bone infection in his ankle that had been long-standing but unattended was quickly triaged in the foot and ankle clinic at Strong. The appropriate treatment and surgery was performed and this very serious condition was rectified.

These are all cases of people without insurance with life threatening conditions. Because we concentrate on primary care, not emergency care, these are the kinds of conditions
that we can pick up on more easily than a busy ER is able to. These scenarios also point to the tremendous community effort put forth to bring together volunteers, systems, finances and knowledge to save lives – this is our specialty at the Center, “Where Health is a Community Effort.”

You are at the heart of these stories. It sounds dramatic to say that lives are saved, but it is really about teamwork, paying attention and getting systems to work in favor of the patients who present to us regardless of their insured state. That is our mission and once again I thank you for supporting that mission and ask your continued support. The ACA has helped some people – there are a lot of people who are still not insured needing critical and chronic care.

Marie says, “But we aren’t done yet.”

–Christine Wagner, SSJ

What A Ride This Has Been

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Since October 1 we have been riding the wave of the New York State Exchange rollout. This has affected all of our patients and clients as well as many others in the community who have asked us for help in negotiating this new option for obtaining health insurance.

As of March 31, the first open enrollment period on the Exchange closed. We can now begin to assess what the impact of this first six months has been for our patients and clients and the Center. The expansion of Medicaid to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level has been a blessing for many people who were surprised that they are now eligible. They were easily signed up and now have the security of health insurance. Medicaid enrollment is continuous and has no open or closed times during the year.

Other people were pleased to find an insurance policy on the Exchange that fit their health care needs and their budget, especially after the Advanced Premium Tax Credit was applied. They too applied with the assistance of a Navigator right at the Center and we are helping them find a new provider and get settled with their new health insurance.

As we anticipated, though, there are others for whom the Affordable Care Act has not worked. For some the premiums and deductibles are still unaffordable; others are ineligible to apply; some are not capable of negotiating a large health care system and their health care would suffer; some may get caught in administrative snafus that leave them without health care in the interim. These are the people we will continue to see at St. Joseph’s – those who have no options in the health insurance world, but who have all manner of health concerns.

So as we go forward, we do as we have always done – care for people on a daily basis, and watch carefully what is happening on a larger scale, so that we can be ready to address issues as they arise. That is the best way we can be responsible with your invested dollars.

On a personal level, we are getting ready to say goodbye to Janet McNally who was our very first volunteer 20 years ago, and who then became our full-time Clinical Coordinator seven years ago after her retirement from St. John’s Home. She is going into full-time “Grandma” mode with Ella and Charlie as her family moves to Arizona. We have no words to say how much we will miss Janet, nor how much she has contributed to the Center being a model of excellence for the delivery of health care.

In her honor, we started the McNally Patient Assistance Fund, which will be used to pay for tests and other expenses that patients need that they cannot afford themselves.

We also suffered the loss of our friend and volunteer Jeffery Barhite who died suddenly after a brief illness. He was a bright light for us and we are stunned at his absence. Our volunteers are the heart and soul of the Center and when someone suddenly disappears from our midst we are deeply affected. Jeffery was somewhat of a force of nature in his own right and we miss that energy.

So, welcome to 2014. Let’s explore what this year will be bringing to all of us. Thank you for your continued support as we work at our mission every day to bring health care to those who have no other options. You keep the ship afloat – thank you.

–Christine Wagner, SSJ


St. Joseph's Neighborhood Center
417 South Avenue • Rochester, New York 14620
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