CapeStyle Feature — Meet Sue Hook

Introducing Cape Coral resident Sue Hook, “Good Samaritan” and a blessing to all of us!

Walk into Samaritan Health and Wellness Center at 643 Cape Coral Parkway East and you can feel the peace, the presence of God, of caring and of love. An unpretentious, humble place, it exudes the beliefs of those who care for the health needs of anyone who walks through the door, no matter what their beliefs. The foundation and spirit of this place is symbolized by the unique, handmade driftwood cross that stands life size, alone on the wall.

The person who originally listened to God and nurtured the vision into reality is Cape Coral resident Dr. Sue Hook, family nurse practitioner and Executive Director of Samaritan. She had been working for Lee Physician Group for 10 years when in September 2011, while working at home, Hook was introduced to the idea of a Christ-centered, primary care medical practice to serve the working uninsured. She was half listening to an interview with Dr. G. Scott Morris from Memphis, Tennessee on the Moody Bible Channel when she heard him say: “If you, as the Church, are not involved in the healing ministry, you are leaving a third out of what Jesus did when he walked on this earth.” This gave her pause for thought.

Dr. Morris founded and directs the Church Health Center, the largest Christ-centered primary care practice for the working uninsured in the nation. He started talking about a replication workshop being offered in Memphis at the end of Oct 2011. Although she’s not a traveler, Hook talked to her husband, Steve, about it, then to their pastor. Both men encouraged her to go. The two day workshop was a bit overwhelming. The Church Health Center had been “in business” for 30 years, starting with a tiny clinic and growing into a 8000 square foot medical center. It seemed an impossible undertaking, but Hook was excited to share what she learned with her family and friends.

 

When she came back from the workshop, she wrote a letter of resignation to her employer, but God had a different plan, so Hook waited. She was glad she listened. Samaritan Health and Wellness Center did not open until November 2014, three years after the vision was born. What she learned in Memphis was how to organize and start the Center. A “vision team” of community members was formed, and the business plan and timeline were initiated. “The biggest caveat I learned there was to raise the first year’s operating budget before you open the doors. Another lesson I learned is that God’s timing is always perfect! He blessed us with our first year’s budget by August 2014.”

Hook resigned from her job and left Lee Physician Group in October 2014 after securing the office space for Samaritan in early August 2014. “This is the place God gave us.” Volunteers did all the work, which included demolition, painting, carpentry, flooring and cleaning.  The doors opened for patients on November 3, 2014. “The first week we had 40 patients on the schedule. That number has escalated to approximately 90 visits per week,” Hook explained. “We currently have nearly 2,800 unduplicated patients who call this place their medical home.”

They don’t advertise. They have a Facebook page, and a website (www.capesamaritan.com) which people can access to discover all that Samaritan has to offer. The local Fox News affiliate aired two wonderful segments about Samaritan, including their grand opening celebration and another about affordable health care. “There is no need to pay for advertising,” Hook said. “Patients come in and feel the peace. They tell others to come. Whoever walks through the door is welcome, regardless of religious preference, but there is no doubt who runs this place. You can’t help but know.” The huge driftwood cross, which is aligned at the same angle as the one in Samaritan’s logo, was created by a master carpenter and driftwood artist who also helped with construction. It reminds people when they walk in that this place belongs to Jesus Christ.

“I could sit here for hours and tell you story after story of how God has blessed this place. That’s why I don’t want this story to be about me. I work here, but it’s not about me or anybody else who serves here; it’s about what God is doing in people’s lives. All who walk through that door, patients, employees and volunteers, are brought by Him. I don’t believe in coincidence; there is no other explanation about why these people wind up here.”

Hook goes on to tell the story about one of her first patients. She shared with him what the place was about, and he listened intently. Finally he said, “That’s so cool, but I just don’t believe.” “Hey, that’s ok ‘cause He loves you and we love you, and by the way, how did you end up here?” “Well,” the fellow said, “I was looking for this doctor’s office. I went down to the other end of the building, and the door was locked. I came back this way and your door was open.”  With a wry smile, Hook responded, “Hmm, so who do you think brought you here?” He laughed, stopped and thought about it, and with a grin said, “Well, you’ve certainly given me something to think about.” “He keeps coming back” she says. “He still hasn’t changed his belief system, but there’s something about this place that draws him back. That’s God.” Those are the kinds of things she claims are totally divine and not of human origin.

“I have no false sense of humility, it is Jesus who runs this place, not Sue Hook. We are just humans,” she says, “If he takes me home today, somebody else will take this job, and that goes for everybody who works here.” She humbly but enthusiastically tells  story after story of “miracles and answers to prayer and needs” that came and continue to come, which help Samaritan grow here in Cape Coral.

So exactly what is Samaritan Health & Wellness?

Samaritan is a Christ-centered, primary care integrated behavioral health practice. It is a true family medicine practice where care is provided for infants to elderly and everyone in between. The integrated behavioral health portion includes counseling for those in need. Hook explains that when she worked for the Lee Physician Group, primary care providers could only refer patients out to counselors or psychiatrists if there were mental health issues; the patients had to call to schedule their own appointments. She rarely received feedback from the mental health providers because of confidentiality.

She explains that spiritual, mental, and physical health issues usually go together. In her 10 years of working for Lee Physician Group, she never knew what was going on with patients in counseling other than what they would tell her. “It’s incongruent! Why is physical health any less confidential than mental health?” she questions. “If I referred a patient for surgery, the surgeon always sent his notes to me following the procedure, so I knew what was going on with the patient. This doesn’t happen in mental health care.”

Samaritan Health has embedded counselors who work with primary care providers to address all the needs of the patients. Every patient has to be established in primary care in order to access the counseling. All providers involved work together to provide comprehensive care to the patients. “All information remains confidential, but we work together to assure each patient’s needs are being met.”

Hook goes on to explain that Samaritan Health is centered on Jesus and not on a single church or denomination. “Samaritan’s mission involves the ‘Church’ reclaiming the healing ministry of Christ.” She continued by giving examples in the history of health care.  “Churches historically ran health care clinics and hospitals. St. Joseph Hospital, Lutheran Hospital, and Parkview Methodist Hospital were the establishments in my home town in Indiana.” Today, she explains, health care is an “industry” predominantly run by big business, even if they are not for profit.

Samaritan is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation whose primary funding is donations and the small fees the patients pay for service. So churches, individuals, and big and small businesses from all over Lee County donate to keep the Center running. “We even receive donations from folks living in other states who vacation here,” Hook said. There are also donations of items and volunteer time that proves this is a true community effort.

Patients pay flat fees for services, so services are not free. It is designed for the working uninsured and under insured (those who often have high deductibles plans.) Patients know up front the costs which have to be paid before they receive care. A new patient visit is $50, and a follow up visit is $35. There are other prices for services and procedures including annual physical exams, hospital follow ups, counseling, gynecology exams, well child exams, acute illness care, chronic illness management, and wellness and preventative health care. Mental health counseling, health education sessions, spiritual care and counseling are also available. Patients needing specialty care are referred to those providers.  Smoking cessation, drug and alcohol addiction counseling, and even minor office surgeries are offered at Samaritan.

The details and the stories are many. “God blessed us with Quest Diagnostics. They sent a representative, who is a Christian, to discuss prices of lab services for our patients.  We prayed at the end of our meeting, and a price list for services came back that was insane,” Hook said. Labs generally ordered for an annual physical usually costs over $150, but through Samaritan patients pay just $30. Patients pay for their labs at Samaritan, and Samaritan pays Quest at the end of the month. They told her “we’ll give you these prices if you collect the money.”

Radiology Regional’s clinical director contacted Dr. Hook, and he and their business manager met to discuss a partnership. They provide discounted rates for Samaritan patients who need CT Scans, MRIs and X-rays. These are all “provisions from God, and some we didn’t even ask for,” she explains.

A plastic surgeon who Hook has never met sees patients for a reduced fee upon referral from Samaritan. “If I discover a skin cancer or other concerning skin issues, I refer to this specialist, and he takes it from there.” There is also a dentist who gives discounted rates to referred patients. It goes on and on.

Samaritan does not bill insurance companies, which is a huge benefit to them, but patients with insurance are welcome. They will receive a receipt for services rendered and can submit to insurance if they wish. Patients are not required to prove residency or their financial status. They simply charge their fees. Who ever comes through the door will be taken care of. They are there to serve and not to say “you don’t meet our criteria.”

Samaritan has another program, SamariCARE, designed to help small business provide a level of health care to their employees. The employer donates $25 per employee per month to Samaritan, and the employees receive a card entitling them to 50% off office visit fees. This helps the employees and Samaritan. The Two Silver Coins Fund, another Samaritan offering, provides funds for patients who cannot afford even the low fees charged for service. Those needing help apply through churches, the church administrator verifies the person’s need and then refers them to Samaritan. This Fund is based on the story of the Good Samaritan who gave the innkeeper two silver coins to care for the beaten man on the side of the road (Luke 10:27).

Whether you are follower of Jesus or not, Dr. Hook’s passion for caring for people, for love and for healing with Christ in mind, transcends religion and goes to the heart of her belief that God is the healer of all. Sometimes there comes a time in life where help is needed; sometimes its physical, sometimes mental, and many times its spiritual. There are those in our society who can afford health care services. Those who cannot are often provided for by government programs, but there are many that fall in the middle: the working uninsured and under insured. These people work, pay their bills, but cannot afford health insurance or have high deductibles. The story of Samaritan Health and Wellness Center is centered on helping these very people with primary health care of body, mind, and spirit. Thank you, Dr. Hook, for being a beacon, for listening to God and acting, for facilitating, and for blessing our community and our people with excellent care and love and for being our Good Samaritan.

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