Tuesday, 3 April 2007

God wants you to carry your kidney stones to term

HOUSTON - Thurston Willaby was on his way to the hospital for surgery when he was approached by a couple who suggested that he had other options. He accompanied them to a ‘health crisis’ center, where he was given an ultrasound exam of his kidneys and promised help if he carried his stones to term.

“Once I saw the ultrasound pictures - I decided to keep them,” said Willaby. His stones were passed 3 months ago and Willaby can’t imagine why his doctor wanted to cut them out. To him the ‘health crisis’ center was a godsend.
“If it wasn’t for them, I’d have had that surgery,” said Willaby, a trucker with a family history of kidney disease. “It hurt like hell and I thought that I was going to die when those stones came out the natural way, but my counselor at the center prayed for me.”

The facility he visited is part of a burgeoning movement of free ‘health crisis’ centers set up by US Health Management Organizations to dissuade people from receiving expensive health care. The centers usually provide free tests, counseling, peer support and material aid such as hardwood sticks to hold in one’s mouth when passing kidney stones.

To many people, ‘health crisis’ centers, sometimes called “God’s Way” resource centers, provide a valuable service. President Bush is one of their supporters. People such as Willaby praise the emotional and material support they received, saying they are grateful to have avoided having a surgery.

Some agree that reducing surgeries should be a public policy goal but criticize the centers’ tactics. Many of the facilities masquerade as health clinics to pressure vulnerable people into avoiding surgery. In addition, they suggest that surgeries are frivolous and unnecessary, since they are expensive and require a lot of paperwork. William Gordon is among the people who feel that they were misled. The IT technician was headed for an out-patient surgery clinic when he saw an office in the same building that advertised free tests and said “People for Choice Health Care” on the door.

“I thought it was the clinic where I had an appointment,” said Gordon, “and the man behind the counter led me to believe they were expecting me.” The counselor asked intrusive questions about his religious beliefs, he said, and then told Gordon he needed to watch a video while he waited for the results of his test. “It was full of propaganda about the risks of surgery, and showed the instruments they use and body tissue being ripped apart,” said Gordon, who had his eye surgery later at a genuine health clinic. “It was meant to scare and manipulate me.”

Christin Nash of FearNot, an umbrella group that provides resources to ‘health crisis’ centers, contends the centers do not pressure clients; instead, they want to help people to make fully informed choices. “We don’t want them to feel coerced by their spouse or friends, their doctors or the hospitals,” said Nash. “We would like each person to decide, but having received all the necessary information and knowing that if they want to avoid surgery and let God help them deal with their crisis, that they’re not alone.”

Officials at Houston’s Free Health Crisis Care, where Willaby went, say they tell callers up front that they do not perform surgeries. “The counseling relationship has to be based on trust,” said Stan Digby, chairman of the center’s board, which is affiliated with the Green Cross HMO. “Right from the start, we’re going to be truthful.”
Serena Jones, director of client services at Free Health Crisis Care, said her staff is not judgmental and goes over both options with each client: no surgery or surgery.

The main room of the counseling center at Free Health Crisis Care looks a lot like a medical office, with its white cabinets, stainless-steel sink and specimen jars for urine collection. Atop a chest of drawers are four pink-rubber anatomical models (discretely covered with hospital gowns) of a human torso, a brain, an arm and a leg that have several surgical instruments, tubes and clamps inserted into them. Center staff said the models are used to show a client what their surgery could look like, but only if they want to know.

Nash said nearly all health crisis centers are “economics-based” and “pro-nature.” They feel that the ‘wait-and-see’ approach is God’s way. “As a Christian organization, we desire that (the centers’ clients) would come to know Jesus as the personal savior of their health,” Nash said. “Our primary goal is to prevent expensive surgeries and share the love of Jesus Christ.”

The National Hospital Federation issued a report on ‘health crisis’ centers last year. The NHF’s report states that although many centers look like medical facilities, “most volunteers who work directly with clients are not medical professionals. Their main qualifications are a commitment to Christianity and anti-surgery beliefs”. Also, the main source of funding and support for these so-called ‘health crisis’ centers comes from HMO’s and the health insurance industry.

The source of inspiration for this spoof came from a news item about ‘pregnancy crisis’ centers in the US. It concludes with this statement: “Many ‘crisis pregnancy’ centers receive federal support, mainly through programs that fund abstinence-only sex-education programs. According to the report, anti-abortion pregnancy centers have received more than $30 million in federal funding since 2001, when President Bush took office.”
Originally posted at Birth Pangs

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