‘Circle of Health’ program created to expand medical services on the North Fork and beyond

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Marguerite Schondebare, right, shows Christian Education Director Kathy Tylee the ISMS donation boxes.

Concerned about the delivery of health care both at home and abroad, First Presbyterian Church of Southold parishioners have launched a three-pronged assistance program, called the Circle of Health, they hope will spread throughout the community.

The first, the Wings of Eagles, provides volunteers to transport patients to medical appointments. If enough volunteers are available, they provide other services, such as shopping for homebound patients.

Jeremiah’s Healing, the second effort, will present programs about health care and share information on medical services available in Suffolk County. Programs will include “brown bag” events, at which people bring in their prescriptions for review by a pharmacist, who will explain possible drug interactions. Other events may focus on how to lower prescription costs and optimizing your health.

The third element is international in scope and involves coordinating support for local health care providers who volunteer their time in countries where medical services are limited. International Surgical Medical Support Inc. has involved doctors, nurses and other medical personnel from East End hospitals who travel abroad to bring their skills and medical supplies to Third World countries, particularly regions hit by disasters like last year’s massive earthquake in Haiti.

If organizer Marguerite Schondebare has her way, what starts as a program in one church will spread first across the North Fork and eventually from community to community, involving thousands dedicated to improving the delivery of health care in their own communities and throughout the world.

“The North Fork could really be emblematic of what’s possible in our world,” Ms. Schondebare said. “People here are really amazing.”

Ms. Schondebare has 13 volunteers already lined up for the Wings of Eagles program and hopes others will volunteer so she can fill time slots when her current crew isn’t available.

The services are available to all town residents, Ms. Schondebare said. Initially she’s reaching out to faith-based organizations, to both seek volunteers and offer services to those in need. At the same time, she is quick to note that to participate, as either a provider of services or a beneficiary, no religious affiliation is necessary. Religious institutions each have their own newsletters, so it’s a way of spreading the word quickly, she said.

The international arm of the program was an outgrowth of Ms. Schondebare’s personal interest in the delivery of health services. That was primed by a discussion with her daughter, who will graduate from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in June and also holds an MBA in global health from Wharton. To understand her daughter’s concerns, Ms. Schondebare began reading and developed her own interest in health care delivery.

To raise money for the international outreach, volunteers will distribute collection boxes throughout the community. While many may feel they’re not in a position to contribute, Ms. Schondebare is asking that people give up a single cup of coffee, a pack of cigarettes or a slice of pizza for a day and put that amount in one of the collection boxes. Small amounts add up, she said.

“Everyone is naturally moved by horrific events, but with the passage of time, people tend to forget there are ongoing needs,” Ms. Schondebare said. She began an effort of her own, supplying small whistles that are distributed to people in Third World countries. They may be used to summon help for someone in distress or in place of call buttons in clinics in the countries the medical personnel visit.

Ms. Schondebare calls them “whistles for peace” that let recipients know Americans care about their welfare. She has distributed them through Dr. Glenn Geelhoed’s Mission to Heal program, which for four decades has concentrated on bringing medical personnel to the poorest and often most dangerous parts of the world, treating patients and training local health care workers.

Back at home, through the Jeremiah’s Healing program, health advocate and fitness trainer Dan Hegeman is scheduled to speak Thursday, Feb. 10, at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Southold about ways patients can improve their own health.
“We can’t serve others if we’re not strong ourselves,” Ms. Schondebare said.

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