Tom Lewis is the Director of the St. Claire HealthCare Foundation in Morehead, Kentucky.
Working at St. Claire HealthCare has led me to rethink the way I look at ministry. Growing up in the Protestant church, I used to think of a minister as the preacher or someone in a full-time church position. Then I came to St. Claire, where our very mission is “to proclaim God’s goodness through a healing ministry to the people of eastern Kentucky.” As I pondered that, I realized that ministry at its core is attending to someone else’s needs. Ministry didn’t require a seminary degree or a church title. In fact, in my role and with my mission at St. Claire, I was in essence in “full-time ministry”. For me, that was a profound realization.
St. Claire is the only acute-care hospital in the country that’s sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame, serving a population base that’s less than one percent Catholic. We continue to survive and thrive, even though we’re in the heart of one of the most economically distressed regions in not just Kentucky, but the entire nation. I challenge people to show me another hospital in a service region the same size and with the same economic conditions that’s providing 32 medical specialties. And I believe these things are possible because of the one constant since our doors opened in 1963, and that’s our mission. God has remained faithful to us as we have endeavored to remain faithful to our mission.
One of my favorite lines ever from a TV show was from Sister Monica Joan on Call the Midwife. She said, “The hands of the Almighty are so often to be found at the ends of our own arms.” To me this is exemplified by the way the Sisters of Notre Dame have historically and consistently put their faith into action. They haven’t just supported ministries. Their hands have been actively involved in ministry. Whether it be teaching children and adults alike, providing holistic care to the sick and hurting, or extending help to the poor and marginalized, the Sisters of Notre Dame have been, by extension, the “hands of the Almighty” time and again. That example and servant leadership has set the tone here at St. Claire since the day our doors opened. I’m honored and humbled to work alongside, be affiliated with, and learn from such doers of the Word.
St. Claire positively impacts our community on a variety of levels. From a healthcare perspective, we are the largest rural integrated health system in northeast Kentucky. We offer 32 medical specialties, operate an acute-care hospital that serves as a regional referral center, have family medicine clinics in five counties in a largely underserved area, and provide an eight-county home health and hospice program. It isn’t uncommon for our home health and hospice staff in one year’s time to drive a million miles in just eight counties to care for people who can’t get to the hospital or doctor’s office. In all, we average about a half-million patient encounters a year. In Fiscal 2020, St. Claire provided nearly $5.4 million in charity and uncompensated care, at cost. We have been a regional leader in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Economically, we are one of the two largest employers in our service region. We’re also active in grant-funded research, proactively addressing issues like Radon mitigation, colorectal cancer screenings, and fighting the opioid epidemic. And as much as possible, we strive to be an active partner in community and regional initiatives to improve the health and well-being of the people in our service area. At the center of all of these things is our mission.