‘A Vibrant Example of Christ’s Healing,’ — Dr. Holly Hoffman Shares her Life-Saving Services to Migrants and Refugees

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Dr. Holly Hoffman has helped deliver over 100 healthy babies through the volunteer prenatal clinic.
Dr. Hoffman has helped deliver over 100 healthy babies through the volunteer prenatal clinic.

Dr. Holly Hoffman lives out her faith through serving the most vulnerable in her community: migrants and refugees who are uninsured and uninsurable. On days off from her full-time job as a pediatric practitioner, she provides prenatal care, dental care, and acts as Medical Director for Christ Lutheran Health Ministries. Due to her service, her community is stronger. Over 100 healthy babies have been delivered, local high school Spanish students get the chance to serve as interpreters, and Dr. Hoffman has acquired skills and shared joys she never would have otherwise had.

Below is an interview with Dr. Hoffman conducted by LIRS’s Media Relations Specialist, Clarissa Perkins.

Clarissa Perkins (CP): How did you become involved with ministry to migrants and refugees?

Dr. Holly Hoffman (HH): I became involved in immigrant ministry by the invitation of two fellow Lutherans: Rev. Jody Silliker, a prenatal care nurse and pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Harrisburg PA, and Sharon Kaya, lay pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hampton, PA and Latino Missioner for the Gettysburg Conference, and of the Living Water Dental Health Clinic. Both had identified needs in their communities and asked if I could help meet them.

CP: How do you minister to migrants and refugees?

HH: Pastor Jody’s church sits in the middle of one of the worst neighborhoods in Harrisburg, PA. The demographics of her congregation are predominantly Hispanic and Egyptian, unlike pretty much any other congregation in our Synod, Lower Susquehanna. When she became pastor at Christ Church 17 years ago, her background in nursing led her to quickly see and begin meeting the medical needs of the local immigrant community. Using the model of “grow where you are planted,” the church went from a dying, elderly German congregation to a growing, multi-ethnic center of hope and health. It is now a vibrant example of Christ’s healing, offering many different types of outreach, including:

Holy Spirit Hospital’s Medical Outreach Service – a free, nurse-run drop-in clinic open every weekday. It provides 800 patient visits onsite every month of first aid, simple lab tests, health assessments, health education, medical case management and items necessary to health, such as blankets, underwear, hygiene products and the like. This “Dr. Mom” clinic is the only place in a nine-block radius where homeless are welcome to come in, rest a while and have coffee or juice. The Service also provides assistance in obtaining prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Prenatal Care Clinic – a free prenatal care clinic for those who are not able to access medical assistance.

Dental Clinic – a free dental care clinic available twice a month for urgent problems like fillings and simple extractions.

Free Baby Furniture Bank – the only place in the city where poor women can receive the cribs, strollers, bedding and the like for their babies.

Durable Medical Goods Bank and Orthopedic Bank – a bank that recycles clean walkers, bedside commodes, and the like, as well as providing new splints, wraps, humidifiers and more.

Family Practice Clinic – newly opened, this clinic will be staffed by one or more retired physicians who will volunteer their time to provide free medical services.

I do the prenatal clinic on my days off from my paying job. I am still a full-time pediatric practitioner in Carlisle, PA, and just finished my seventh year there. I was joined about a year ago by a volunteer nurse practitioner, Gretchen Hong, who does our intakes on several Saturdays each month.

Our only admission requirement is that women be uninsured and uninsurable, so that we care primarily for undocumented women, newly arrived immigrants, and women on student visas. We have cared for over 130 pregnant women to date who have given birth to over 100 healthy babies.

I am also Medical Director for Christ Lutheran Health Ministries. We are deemed by the federal government and covered by FTCA insurance. Holy Spirit Hospital writes off any unpaid lab, emergency room and radiology bills to its charity budget, so our operating expenses are minimal.

CP: You also do ministry through Living Water Dental Health Ministry. Tell us a bit about that.

HH: Living Water Dental Health Ministry was born of an off-hand question that Sharon Kaya asked me at a First Call Conference in the fall of 2011, “Do you know any dental practitioners who would be willing to volunteer their time?” I did, and in May 2012, after assembling a board and having a handful of meetings, we began seeing patients. This clinic is possible primarily through the generous sharing of his office space, equipment and time by Dr. Casey Williams, DMD in Boiling Springs, PA. We have received grants from Wheat Ridge Ministries and the Lutheran Deaconess Foundation that enable us to reimburse volunteer hygienists and assistants for babysitting and travel expenses and to buy dentures for patients who need them. Most of our patients are migrant workers from Adams County who often choose to participate in this ministry by offering free-will donations for their care (trying to avoid “toxic charity”). We have involved local high school students as interpreters and local churches in donating floss, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other supplies.

CP: How has LIRS contributed to the success of your ministry?

HH: I have used LIRS’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform Mythbusters materials to educate my own congregation and others about the truth, in the face of so much cultural negativity toward immigrants.

CP: What are the greatest challenges you’ve encountered?

HH: I find it heartbreaking to watch some of the fathers of my prenatal clinic patients face deportment. I have had to watch mothers struggle with the choice of following the father of their children back to their home country, leaving their citizen children behind with friends, vs. trying to survive as “forced single parents” in a country where they do not speak the language and have little or no support.

I was also distressed that we had to form the dental clinic here in Cumberland County because no one in Adams County, where the majority of our patients live, would donate dental services.

I am spiritually challenged by the disrespect and negative/hostile attitude many people, even in the church, have toward the local immigrant population, which is brought on, in my opinion, primarily by the myths that are perpetuated in our culture about their negative financial and social impact. My prayer is that they will hear the truth, such as told in LIRS publications, and act on it!

CP: What are the successes you’ve seen?

HH: I have had the joy of caring for over 130 pregnant women to date who have given birth to over 100 healthy babies in the past seven years. We have provided nearly 400 patient visits in 21 months through the dental clinic, providing five of them, so far, with dentures. We have developed a group of three dental hygienists and three dental assistants who volunteer quite regularly, and we are providing Boiling Springs Spanish Honors Society students a language immersion experience that they would otherwise not be able to have locally.

Personally, I have learned how to speak a primitive version of the Spanish language; I have learned how to write grants; and I have learned how to do Panorexes [two-dimensional dental x-rays], all skills that I would never have had the opportunity to acquire without my involvement in immigrant care.

CP: How does your home church support these ministries?

HH: My home church, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carlisle, supports both of these ministries through donations of money and supplies. Additional congregational support for the dental clinic is given by St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hampton, PA; Centenary United Methodist, Biglerville, PA, and Heidlersburg Church of the United Brethren, Heidlersburg, PA.

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