November 28, 2014

Volunteer, sisters recognized for ‘looking for the face of Christ’

Seven of the nine Little Sisters of the Poor who operate the St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis sing during the entrance hymn at a Nov. 14 Mass concelebrated by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin prior to a fundraising dinner held on the sisters’ behalf. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Seven of the nine Little Sisters of the Poor who operate the St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis sing during the entrance hymn at a Nov. 14 Mass concelebrated by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin prior to a fundraising dinner held on the sisters’ behalf. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Dr. Peter Blankenhorn became a partner in a medical practice in Indianapolis in 1988, he decided to volunteer doing medical visits at nursing homes.

“Every week, I’d go to one of probably six different nursing homes on my afternoon off,” he said. “But I eventually stopped going to all of them because the care was so bad.”

There was one exception, however—one nursing home he liked so much that he kept making rounds for the next 26 years: the St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“It was so well run,” he said. “You could tell that everyone there cared about the patients. They were doing it because it was a mission, not because they were getting paid, and that makes a big difference.”

After 26 years of serving at the home with no pay—including 15 years as its medical director—Blankenhorn has made a big difference at St. Augustine Home, too.

For his efforts and for his “caring and listening,” says administrator and Mother Superior Sister Mary Vincent Mannion, the Little Sisters recognized Blankenhorn at a fundraising dinner on Nov. 14 in Indianapolis.

“He’s been a wonderful, wonderful doctor,” said Mother Mary Vincent. “You could call him day or night. He was a real father to [the residents], as well as their doctor. They loved him.”

The feeling was mutual.

“I like the elderly,” said Blankenhorn. “They have so much to offer. They’re interesting people, if you talk to them. They have great stories. It’s rewarding work.”

Blankenhorn, who attends a Presbyterian church with his wife, Kristie, has worked for St. Vincent health network since they purchased his private practice several years ago. He retired from St. Vincent this summer to become the medical director for American United Life Insurance Co. (AUL) in Indianapolis.

“I started doing life insurance work [as medical director] at AUL for a friend of mine when he would go out of town,” he said. “He’s retiring, and it just was a good time [for me to retire from medical practice].

“Health care is changing so much,” Blankenship explained. “It is no longer doctor/patient oriented. It’s insurance companies calling the rules, and nobody likes that. So that was my impetus to leave.

“You don’t get the rewarding interaction you get from [working directly with] patients, but it’s nice for someone getting older.”

After St. Vincent’s two-year non-compete term is completed, Blankenhorn said he hopes “to come back to the Little Sisters of the Poor and volunteer on weekends, see patients—whatever they need.”

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, who celebrated Mass immediately before the event and served as its keynote speaker, presented Blankenhorn with a framed commendation he signed, recognizing the doctor’s 26 years of generous service to the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“The way we look at the people we’re helping comes out of what we believe,” the archbishop said in his address before 380 attendees. “The sisters, in looking for the face of Christ in the ones who enter their home, are operating out of their belief.

“We thank the sisters for reminding us to sharpen our eyesight and to walk the talk, that in our response to faith we are doing it because of Christ.”

The fundraiser is held annually to help the Little Sisters in their mission to house and care for the poor elderly.

“Since 1873, the Little Sisters of the Poor have been blessed to serve the poor elderly in Indiana,” said Mother Mary Vincent.

She said it costs approximately $4.8 million per year to operate St. Augustine Home, which houses 96 residents and nine sisters.

“Our payroll alone is $260,000 a month,” she explained. “And 67 percent of our income is from donations.”

Jim Zinc, who serves on the home’s advisory board, said the Little Sister’s reserve accounts “are exhausted.”

“The reserves are normally the result of legacies that are left to them throughout the year,” he said. “The legacies are just not what they’ve been in the past. People tend to give a lot in December, but January and February are lean.”

Mother Mary Vincent admitted that God sometimes takes them “right to the brink.

“With the cutbacks in Medicaid funding and expenses going up, it is indeed a scary time,” Mother Mary Vincent admitted.

But like the Little Sisters’ founder, St. Jeanne Jugan, who worked “out of [God’s] providence through the generosity of others,” Mother Mary Vincent said the trying times are not so scary “when you trust in the providence of God.

“I’ve lost sleep over many things, but never money.”
 

(For more information about the Little Sisters of the Poor’s St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis, log on to www.littlesistersofthepoorindianapolis.org.)

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