For many years now one of St. Dunstan’s most important ministries has been Family Promise. We were a founding member of the North Fulton/DeKalb network of congregations dedicated to providing safe shelter for families without homes. For three or four weeks a year, St. Dunstan’s parish hall and Sunday School rooms became home for three or four families. Many of you have cooked and served dinner, spent the night, played with kids, bought supplies, and helped in many other ways.
When the pandemic hit, Family Promise staff wisely realized that moving families from congregation to congregation each week was not a viable option. St Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Dunwoody and Roswell Presbyterian, both large churches with large facilities, became permanent hosts to the families. When our turns to “host” came we provided grocery gift cards for the families to buy their own food, and provided volunteers to spend the night, without coming into physical contact with the families.
Once the congregational rotation started back up earlier this year, we raised the question of vaccines. We urged the FP staff to require vaccines of all guests age 12 and up, but they chose not to do so. When our turn to host came up a couple of months ago, we decided to pay for the families to spend the week in an extended stay motel, and provided them with gift cards for groceries and gas, rather than having them and our volunteers potentially exposed to the virus.
We are scheduled to host again in mid-November. Family Promise’s policy remains the same, even though infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are soaring in Georgia. Last night the vestry made the difficult decision to suspend our ties with and financial support of Family Promise. The refusal to require vaccines needlessly puts the lives of the families and our volunteers at risk. No one was happy about making this decision, but we unanimously believe it was the responsible one to make. If Family Promise changes the policy or the pandemic ends we will revisit our participation.
As much as we wish otherwise, the pandemic is far from over. Almost every afternoon I receive information about the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths which have occurred in Georgia for the previous 24 hours. The information yesterday (Tuesday) covered the period from Friday afternoon until Tuesday. In that time in Georgia there were 18,000 new cases of Covid diagnosed, 932 new hospitalizations, and 225 deaths. Almost 10 percent of the population in Georgia has been diagnosed with Covid since the pandemic began.
Those numbers can seem abstract if you don’t know anyone who has been hospitalized or died from Covid. Last week I checked in with two ER doctors at Grady and asked how things were going. They both said I could share their replies with you.
First from our parishioner Dr. John Lloyd:
“Right now we have 50 (Covid) patients in the emergency department admitted and filling up all the rooms and on stretchers in the hall (even many with Covid pulmonary)… The health care system won’t crash in Atlanta, but it could in parts of rural Georgia since they started with marginal capacity. We are breaking the backs of a generation of nurses and it will take a long time to turn it around.”
And from Dr. Lauren Gensler, also at Grady, who was married at St. Dunstan’s and whose two children were baptized here:
“Life at Grady is honestly just depressing right now. We don’t have enough staff. We feel like society has taken advantage of us, and turned us into martyrs we never wanted to be. A lot of people are quitting and I doubt they’ll ever come back to health care. It feels like we are trying to save a system and country that don’t want to be saved.”
“The pandemic, our broken healthcare system, and the complete selfishness of the general population is weighing most of us down. I’m not sure people understand how much most healthcare workers are hurting. The suicide rate among doctors is skyrocketing.”
Please keep Lauren, John, and all other health care workers in your prayers. We have the resources to end these hospitalizations and deaths. For people to refuse to use them is not only selfish, it is sinful.