St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Santa Fe, NM is reaching out to families crushed by medical debt through a big gift and a big partnership. Through donations, the parish wiped out nearly $1.4 million of medical debt for 782 households.
St. Bede’s worked with RIP Medical Debt, a well-respected organization that identifies households whose incomes are less than twice the poverty level or are insolvent, and owe medical debt. Then they buy the debt at a fraction of face value (as a collection agency otherwise would) and pay it off using donations from people such as us. Furthermore, they write the affected parties a letter telling them they no longer owe the debt, and equally important, contact credit agencies to verify the debt has been paid, clearing the debtor’s credit history. The letter recipients receive identifies St. Bede’s as the donor.
St. Bede’s grant of $15,000 cleared $1,380,119.87 in medical debt for the families who live in New Mexico and parts of Arizona. That includes all the available debt in New Mexico, plus Apache, Gila, Graham, Mohave, Navajo, and part of Maricopa County in Arizona–782 households in all. Said the Rev’d Catherine Volland “I don’t know if this parish has ever funded a program with such a great impact. We were able to do it because every week we set aside 10% of donations to the church for outreach. Prioritizing service to others is our gospel imperative.”.
782 families will learn what it’s like to unexpectedly get a letter that says “St. Bede’s Episcopal Church has paid off the medical debt you have been struggling with for the past number of years. No strings attached.” One recipient from a recent round of payments responded to their letter saying “ I was having a hard time trying to figure out how I was going to pay all this amount of money and it’s not been easy finding a job especially when you have two kids and with this pandemic going on. It has really been a very hard year for me and for everyone. I would love to thank personally that special person that helped me with my account. I am so thankful and I just want to say God bless you always.”.
Established in 2014, RIP Medical Debt was founded by two former debt collection executives. Their nonprofit organization uses donations to buy large portfolios of medical debt at a fraction of its value, then forgive significant amounts of the debt. In 2020, the organization abolished $1.7 billion in debt for over 830,000 people.
St. Bede’s most recent community contribution demonstrates the passion of its members to serve the Santa Fe community, struggling families in the Southwest and reach out with love to the world.
The church community has also found many other ways to help those in need. There is a Little Free Food Pantry outside where neighbors can either get food or drop off donations 24/7. They are regular donation partners locally with the Santa Fe Indigenous Center, The Interfaith Shelter, and have funded and built over 20 houses for families in Juarez, Mexico. St Bede’s also recently announced several other generous financial grants:
- Girls Inc. to help meet the expansion of services
- Many Motherstoward the hiring of Spanish speaking staff
- Ahli Arab Hospital,Gaza City (a 139-year-old charitable healthcare institution owned and operated by the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem): for medical supplies, medicines, and fuel to power its generators.
- Tomorrow’s Womenfor the Peace Ambassador Leadership Program.
- New Mexico Center for Therapeutic Ridingfor six scholarships for the Summer Enrichment Therapeutic Riding Program.
One parishioner commented on the recent gifts to worthy organizations saying “It’s great to know that we do more with our donations than just serve our own church – we reach out to our local community and all over the world. In a time when so many are struggling with medical concerns and costs, this partnership with RIP Medical Debt seems so in tune with our mission to “Celebrate God’s Love for All.”.
St Bede’s has been a positive force in Santa Fe, New Mexico since 1961, so the chance to eliminate all medical debt for New Mexicans was a natural. Even after that, there was quite a bit left. Why Arizona? There are 11 federally recognized Native American tribes in Arizona, and one of them lives in the Grand Canyon. These communities face significant inequity in health care and health status compared to other U.S. populations, which includes greater medical debt.
St. Bede’s is hopeful that other individuals and organizations will join the effort to make more families free of medical debt to live happier, healthier lives.
Peg Maish, St. Bede’s Episcopal Church