Emory Saint Joseph's employees define the spirit of mercy

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Sept. 23, 2014

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Mary Beth Spence
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Left: Wandalene Arnold. Right: Richard Hansen

Every year on September 24, Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital celebrates Mercy Day, in recognition of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy. She opened the first House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland to assist the homeless, serve the poor and visit the sick, a mission that endures today at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital.

In addition to serving the hospital's patients with compassionate care, some employees have extended this mission to serving the poor and vulnerable at Mercy Care. Through the years, Emory Saint Joseph's employees have volunteered, providing care in homeless shelters, under bridges, on the sidewalks outside soup kitchens and in clinics across the city.

The origins of Mercy Care began after the hospital relocated from Courtland Street to Peachtree Dunwoody Road, when teams of nurses, doctors, Sisters and volunteers headed back downtown to take health care to the streets. This band of good Samaritans served local residents and homeless shelters, and through the years, this evolved into a clinic on wheels called the Mercy Mobile Unit. Since 1985, Mercy Care has grown to 13 clinics and mobile sites.

Richard Hansen, MD, an internal medicine physician for Emory Saint Joseph's, has volunteered at Mercy Care for nearly 20 years providing health care in clinics around the city. "The things Mercy Care does are remarkable, and their understanding of the homeless person and their situation is leaps ahead of other organizations," he says.

A recipient of the Wings of Mercy Award for his commitment to serving the homeless, Hansen dedicates one evening every month to Mercy Care patients who visit him for general health care. "I have worked at six different sites around the city, and now I am working alongside medical students," he says, about mentoring these students as they gain hands-on experience in the clinics.

Perhaps most valuable to Hansen, however, is the experience he has gained from working with the homeless population. "One patient came to see me because he needed to have his blood pressure medication refilled. I noticed he was carrying a tool belt, and learned that he was a carpenter. Unfortunately, this man went through some bad times, and it was the tip over for homelessness. I don't think people realize how many individuals are that close to the edge of homelessness."

"Our health care system still has a whole lot of folks left out, and what we do at Mercy Care is just a small way to help deal with this gap," he added.

Wandalene Arnold has a passion for nursing and helping those in need. For the past 25 years at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital, Arnold has cared for respiratory and diabetic patients, and now works in the cardiac intensive care unit.

Several years ago, after a series of life-changing events, Arnold made the decision to give back to the homeless patients at Mercy Care. She worked part-time at Mercy Care as a member of the Community Homeless Outreach Program (CHOP) team. Arnold conducted health screenings on the streets, at soup kitchens and in women's shelters, while also teaching diabetics about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and blood pressure. She also provided counseling services to Mercy Care patients who were looking to make changes in their lives in order to end their homelessness.

"Mercy Care is a friend to the people," says Arnold, still an active volunteer who connects clients to Mercy Care's services. "To me, mercy is about giving yourself to other people and building a bond of trust. Mercy is also about honoring the other person, finding what makes them special, and helping them recognize that," she added.