Two local Episcopal churches, Hope Church of Manheim and St. Luke’s of Lebanon, are working together to eliminate over $1 million in medical debt for Pennsylvania residents.

The “Help, Healing, and Hope” campaign aims to raise $10,000 by May 12 to purchase and forgive medical debt. The churches are currently about $2,000 short of their goal.

Medical debt accounts for more than half of all debt in collections in the United States. For-profit agencies often buy these debts from hospitals and medical providers at a reduced cost, then attempt to collect the full amount from patients and their families.

Charitable organizations have begun purchasing and forgiving medical debt to alleviate this burden. It is estimated that a $10,000 donation can be used to purchase between $1 million and $1.2 million in medical debt.

Father Bradley Mattson of Hope Church and Father David Zwifka of St. Luke’s said they are passionate about this project, inspired by a personal experience with medical debt following his daughter’s sudden Type I diabetes diagnosis.

“She was emergency transported to CHOP in Philadelphia where we lived for the week waiting to bring her back,” said Father Mattson. “Her condition is now stable – but even though we have insurance the bills were very difficult to cope with.”

Mattson said this experience put medical debt on his radar. Mattson noted that he and his wife – who is also an Episcopal priest – were lucky to have resources and community to help them confront the financial burden, but many in similar situations are not so lucky.

“So many do not have community to help at times like this, but we want the message to be: ‘You are known, you are loved, and you have a community,'” said Mattson.

The churches’ collaboration, although a first, has sparked enthusiasm for future joint efforts. The campaign specifically targets Pennsylvania residents, with debt forgiveness letters sent to debtors within 60 days of the campaign’s conclusion. The parishes are planning to hold a large joint service to celebrate the campaign.

“For our campaign ‘Help, Healing, and Hope’ we specifically selected people who are residents of Pennsylvania, we wanted to help our neighbors,” said Mattson.

To donate, visit the campaign website before May 12 or send a check payable to “Hope Church” with “Medical Debt” on the memo line to Hope Church, 2425 Mountain Road, Manheim, PA 17545. The campaign is working with the well-known nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt to help those in need.

Aside from donating, individuals can also advocate for comprehensive health care and equitable access for all citizens by contacting their federal, state, and local elected officials. Jennifer Hackett, communications coordinator at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, encourages everyone to urge officials to prioritize legislation that ensures citizens don’t risk poverty simply to receive needed medical treatment.

“Our rector, Father David Zwifka, is always seeking ways for our parish to be more deeply engaged in the wider community,” said Hackett. “This project is very much in keeping with the sorts of things he encourages us to do.”

“As he says, his job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Hackett said that the Episcopal Church advocates for comprehensive health care and recognizes the need for universal and equitable access for all.

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