A New Orleans church with a long history takes its social justice efforts on the road, bringing health care access and education to widely diverse local communities.
It’s hard to miss St. Anna’s Medical Mission, which takes the form of a 40-foot-long RV, painted baby blue and emblazoned with slogans like “listening,” “caring,” and “giving.” These days, this medical unit on wheels seems to be all over the place too, one day setting up shop under the Claiborne Avenue overpass at the edge of the Tremé neighborhood, then the next day trucking down to the fishing village of Lafitte.
“Very different people, very different places, different ways of life, different cultural norms. The thread that connects them is limited access to health care,” says James Morris, a social worker at St. Anna’s Medical Mission, an outreach of the historic St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on Esplanade Avenue.
Entering the RV, people find free screenings for issues like diabetes and high blood pressure; they get referrals to other medical help or broader social services – from substance abuse counseling to food assistance; and, on days when a doctor is on board, they can get more extensive care, all at no cost. Most of all, though, this big blue van opens a door to a health care system some people feel is beyond their reach.
“Lack of access is a big deal,” says Morris. “If people can’t access health care, they’re not going to get it. So what we try to do is bridge the gap between the patients who don’t get seen and more proper, mainline medical services.”
Diana Meyers is community wellness director for St. Anna’s Medical Mission and she explains that the service developed after Hurricane Katrina to connect residents in need with the growing number of community clinics and other resources that have emerged since the disaster.
“There are a lot of people who are trying to deal with things in their lives or deal with issues that are coming up that have put health last,” she says. “You know, they have to build their house back or they have to restore their industry, their jobs, or they have to worry about where their kids go to school or the food on the table or whatever and health is always last.”
The medical mission is just one of St. Anna’s outreach projects, along with after-school programs, a food pantry and education programs for the area’s growing Latino community.
“St. Anna’s has been here since 1846 and it has always been a working class church,” Meyers says. “Our whole goal for the church is to serve those who need assistance, or need help to get a foot up.”
Dr. Donisha Dunn, a physician who works with St. Anna’s, has seen firsthand how the medical mission service helps set people on the path to better health, avoid costly emergency rooms visits and sometimes reveal critical conditions. By rolling up in the RV, she says, St. Anna’s is reaching people who might assume tradition care is only for people with money or insurance.
“The bus is here and it says free so they come and knock on the door and they’re able to get care and we’re able to educate them on what their options are,” says Dunn. “And it’s inviting and we’re friendly folks so it works.”
Follow this link to find the mission’s locations and times.
Learn more about St. Anna’s Medical Mission here.