May 4, 2017

Filling the Healthcare Gap

Sandra Blackmer, assistant editor, Adventist Review

Some 1,400 Idaho residents took advantage of the free medical, dental, and vision services that Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN) offered to the Boise community April 18-20 at the city’s Expo Idaho fairgrounds.

“It was an amazing success,” says local AMEN clinic director Liz Thomsen. “On the first day alone we provided about 700 services for 564 people. We’re just thrilled that we were able to do this for the community.”

Almost 80,000 Idahoans earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid and too little for insurance subsidies. “With Idaho’s so-called health care gap going unaddressed during this past legislative session, the need for even basic medical care is great.”[1] Because of these reasons and others, AMEN decided to help.

Those who lined up for the free services could receive medical care and then choose between dental or vision aid. They could access both dental and vision help only if they went through the line twice. Dentists did extractions, fillings, and cleanings. Optometrists performed vision tests, then clients could choose from a wide assortment of eye frames. Single-vision lenses were cut on site, so in about an hour clients walked out with new glasses in hand. Those needing bifocal or trifocal lenses were told they could pick them up in about two weeks from local Adventist churches.

Waiting It Out

Most people seemed to feel the services were worth the wait. Michael from Boise said he can’t afford health-care insurance but has a lot of dental work that needs to be done.

“I actually ended up in the hospital because I had an abscessed tooth and developed sepsis,” he explained. “I’ve already had about $1,000 of dental work done, but I need more, so I’m taking advantage of this opportunity.”

Although Michael had been standing in the registration line for some time, he said it “was not a problem. It’s worth it.”

Much-needed Support

Along with medical services, clients could talk with lifestyle coaches, have a massage, or get a haircut. Some 700 volunteers—physicians, nurses, ophthalmologists, optometrists, dentists, hygienists, massage therapists, hair stylists, security personnel, pastors, and general workers—showed up every day to help with the three-day clinic.

“The community has been so supportive. I can’t even list all the people who have made a big difference,” Thomsen says. “We also connected with other local agencies—hospitals, free clinics, food banks; organizations such as Caring Hands, Genesis Community Health—and they all jumped on board to make this happen.”

One of their most helpful connections, Thomsen says, was the Garden City Community Collaborative,[2] a collaboration of various community service organizations that do pop-up clinics throughout the year to help residents with pressing needs.

“They decided to forgo theirs this quarter and join us, so all their resources were here with us,” Thomsen says. “They just came together with us and helped.”

Church Volunteers

Many of the clinic volunteers are members of the 15 local Adventist churches in Idaho’s Treasure Valley. Cheryl Wiley of the Meridian church, for example, was part of the security team.

‘People need to know what’s on the inside and not judge from what’s on the outside.’

“I mostly helped with outside crowd control and explained to the people what their options would be once they got inside the building,” Wiley says. “One woman I talked with had a broken front tooth and hadn’t been able to go for job interviews because she felt she didn’t look good. But she came out smiling and showed me her repaired tooth. She was beaming as she told me, ‘Now I can go for a job interview.’”

Making Life Changes

Ed and Luana Harlan of the Nampa church assisted as lifestyle coaches. Those who felt the need of making lifestyle changes could talk with a coach, who would help them select one achievable goal. Some wanted to quit smoking, lose weight, eat more healthfully, or exercise more. But one man Luana talked with said his problem was anger.

“He told me he had been raised in a religious home but that he had strayed away,” Luana says. “ ‘I don’t feel comfortable going to church,’ he told me. ‘People think I’m scary looking.’ He was a big guy and had a lot of tattoos and his ears were stretched out with little plugs in them,” Luana explained. “But he said, ‘People need to know what’s on the inside and not judge from what’s on the outside.’ So I talked with him a while and then took him to talk to a pastor—and he gave me a big hug! He spent quite a while with the pastor.”

Ed spoke with about 50 people in the two days he and his wife volunteered at the clinic, but one family, he says, stood out.

“Near the end of the day a family came through that wanted to talk to a pastor, so I took them over to meet one of the volunteer chaplains,” Ed says. “The pastor talked with them for a long time, and then I escorted them to the door because most of the other people had already left. As the father walked out he handed me a tin of chewing tobacco and asked me to dispose of it for him. He obviously was serious about wanting to make a change.”

About 20 pastors volunteered to serve as chaplains to talk and pray with those looking for emotional and spiritual support, and take-away resources were also provided.

“We put together packets for the people that included Steps to Christ, Vibrant Life, and flyers advertising follow-up programs that are being held at local Adventist churches,” says Karen Hamilton, AMEN’s spiritual care coordinator. “The churches are doing programs such as concerts, diabetes and depression seminars, and cooking schools.”

Hamilton puts in lots of miles for her job since she is there for all of AMEN’s 25 to 30 events held annually throughout the country.

“It’s a lot of travel, but it’s fun,” she says. “There is a tremendous number of people who really appreciate what’s going on, and we’re just grateful and excited to be able to help.

To learn more about AMEN, go to

Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.