How do you do a health ministry in a pandemic? For a little while, we didn’t. We are not a clinic. We don’t have special access to extra Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We don’t have a specialized cleaning staff to disinfect at a medical level. We can’t do testing. It took a little while before we figured out what we could do that would be both safe and helpful for the health of everyone involved.
When Patchwork re-imagined and re-started our hospitality ministry as the outdoor Shade Tree Hospitality, we re-started the Sozo Health Ministry in a similar way: outdoors, wearing masks, social distancing as much as possible, and disinfecting surfaces after every client.
One of the main things that our health ministry does is listen. So many people feel that the healthcare system just doesn’t listen to them. We listen to their symptoms and their stories–not just descriptions of the aches and pains, but the narratives of how they happened, how they are affecting the person’s whole life, and their hopes and fears of the future because of them. Listening can still be done wearing masks and staying at a safe social distance. Many of our neighbors struggle with mental illness; isolation can often exacerbate their disorders. By offering a listening ear and a safe place for socialization, we can still work toward better mental health in our community–especially during a pandemic.
We also decided that we could continue doing blood pressure screenings. If both people wear masks, don’t stay close together for more than a few minutes, and the equipment is disinfected after each use, then the risk of coronavirus transmission can be significantly reduced. One Patchwork regular was particularly grateful for this. His hypertension (high blood pressure) is complicated and difficult to control. Sozo Health Ministry has been his primary way to track his blood pressure and get nursing advice about when to call the doctor, when to go to the ER, and when it’s okay just to wait, relax with Shade Tree Hospitality, and re-check it after a little while.
A couple of weeks after we had re-started the health ministry, a woman came to us with terrible wounds up and down one leg. She said that a dog had attacked her. She said she had gone to the ER, and they patched her up a bit (including some wound staples that were still in her leg). But they had discharged her without any bandages or antibiotic ointment. Over the next month, she came regularly and one or both of our nurses tended to her wounds, often requiring a significant amount of gauze, tape, and antibiotic ointment. Thankfully, her wounds did not get infected and, while she does have a few nasty-looking scars, the lacerations have almost completely healed.
One of our “regulars” was sent to prison about 18 months ago. We hadn’t seen or heard from him since. One busy day, in the middle of a hundred other things going on, John got a call. The client had been released from prison and needed help with his health care. He has several mental and physical health conditions that require the attention of multiple specialists. He was fresh out of prison, needed to re-establish care with his providers, was low on his prescription medications, did not have his insurance reinstated yet, and had no means of transportation. He couldn’t even use public transportation because he had been banned for life by the Metropolitan Evansville Transit Service (METS) for a previous infraction.
John weighed the risks and benefits to his own health and the client’s. He decided he could provide transportation in relative safety if they both wore masks and kept the car windows rolled down the entire trip to maximize airflow through the vehicle, thus reducing the risk of aerosol transmission. The client was able to get to his appointments, start the process of getting his health insurance re-activated, and get some of his most necessary medications refilled.
As we are all acutely aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is more than just a virus; it is a pandemic of social, economic, psychological, and spiritual harm to individuals, communities, and the world. The Sozo Health Ministry is trying to do what we can to address the holistic consequences of this multi-faceted disease in our small patch of the globe.