As U.S. health care reform moves into the congressional home stretch, it’s as good of a time as any to remember that organized health care in America owes much to Catholic religious orders, and most of those are religious orders of women.
The current issue of Imagine One magazine, which is published by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, recalls some of the order’s earliest accomplishments in Catholic health care, as well as how members carry out health care ministry today.
In one feature, Sister of St. Joseph Helene Lentz recounts some great moments in the order’s history. You can download the magazine as a .pdf (Sister Helene’s two articles begin on Page 14), but for readers’ convenience I’m copying three vignettes below. They are great reminders of the creativity, zeal, and just plain cleverness that these sisters — as well as other orders of men and women — exercised in taking care of the ailing and needy, and in building up a system that today delivers almost a quarter of U.S. health care.
Here are the three snapshots:
In the mining town of Pittsburg, Kan., in 1903, the sisters began one of the first managed care programs. They went to the mines and collected 25-cents per month from each miner to cover health care costs in case of an accident, illness or injury in the mines.
During a yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans, the sisters helped care for people in their homes where, as a precaution, doctors and nurses were not allowed to go. In appreciation, the city let the sisters ride free-of-charge on all public buses and trolley cars for many years thereafter.
In the 1920s, in the city of Kokomo, Ind., and surrounding areas, the Ku Klux Klan had significant presence and influence. When the Klan held a national “conclave” in Kokomo in 1923, white-robed Klansmen paraded through the streets carrying a large American flag by its four corners asking for contributions so that another hospital might be built in Kokomo. Local lore says that the Klan collected some $50,000 so that local residents “would not have to suffer the indignity of being born, cared for or dying in a Catholic hospital.” The Klan completed its new hospital in 1925; however, circumstances changed greatly and they could not continue their financial support. In 1930, the hospital doors closed and Kokomo auctioned the building for unpaid property tax. The sisters, working quietly through members of their advisory board, were able to buy the facility which, in 1936, became known as St. Joseph Memorial Hospital.