By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS (LBM) – Deep in the heart of New Orleans’ most impoverished neighborhoods, the missionaries and staff of Baptist Community Health Services treat not only the body but also the souls of the more than 10,000 people who pass through the medical ministry’s doors each year.
With a mission of “demonstrating the love of Christ by providing high quality primary medical and behavioral healthcare in underserved communities” BCHS provides needed services while sharing the love of Christ, according to CEO Shawn Powers.
BCHS operates four medical clinics in New Orleans, and is the only known federally qualified health center connected to a Southern Baptist local association of churches, he said. The New Orleans Baptist Association, with the help of the Baptist Community Ministries (a foundation set up with proceeds from the 1995 sale of the Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans) and Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board, launched the medical ministry in 2014.
“We are thankful for the many partners, including BCM, NAMB and NOBA, who invested in the vision of what is today a thriving Christ-exalting healthcare mission,” Powers told the Baptist Message. “We pray our many trusted partners and donors see this accomplishment as BCHS’ ongoing dedication to the stewardship of medical mission that has been entrusted to us.”
Powers initially helped to advise NOBA during its preparation to launch BCHS, and two years after the medical ministry was founded he became the first full-time CEO of the only healthcare center in the Lower Ninth Ward, Powers said. He added that Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, helped select the Lower Ninth Ward where BCHS was launched. That decision was made in large part because residents of the Lower Ninth Ward were struggling with access to primary healthcare even before Hurricane Katrina impacted the area in August 2005.
Powers said Southern Baptists, pastors and lay members, compose 100 percent of the organization’s board of directors. Moreover, BCHS senior staff and doctors are commissioned missionaries of NOBA.
Since the health center’s formation, the staff has shared the Gospel and prayed with patients more than 20,000 times. In partnership with local LBC churches, BCHS strives to use its medical platform to meet the medical, behavioral health and spiritual care needs of patients living in what the federal government defines are “medically underserved communities.”
In 2016, Powers also led BCHS to provide 100 percent free healthcare for Southern Baptist pastors, church staff and their respective families. Powers said he wanted to offer this option because of the desire of BCHS to strengthen the ministry of the local church and believing, “healthy pastors lead healthy churches and healthy churches help build healthy communities.”
The ministry accepts commercial insurance; however, the majority of the health center’s patients are covered by Medicaid and Medicare. Patients without insurance also are served and fees are deeply discounted using a sliding payment scale, usually $25 to $60, based on income level and family size. Regardless, no one in need of care is turned away due to financial reasons, Powers explained.
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration recently awarded BCHS a perfect score after conducting a three-day intensive onsite inspection and audit of BCHS’ compliance with 91 federal elements among 18 major categories — which included inspection of the multi-site health center’s clinical quality (practices, policies and patient outcomes) and review of administrative-financial leadership, and board governance.
“In my own local SBC church, First Baptist New Orleans, our pastor challenged us to ‘dare to love this city’ and to be ‘mighty in word and deed to share and show the love of Jesus with our neighbors,’” said Hannah Pounds, chief medical officer for BCHS. “The vision for what BCHS has become was birthed in the local church, supported by Baptist Community Ministries, the North American Mission Board and made possible through the dedication of the New Orleans Baptist Association. If any of those cooperative links had been removed, we would not be celebrating this milestone today and tens of thousands of people would have missed our Gospel witness.