Pioneer nun expanded health care in New Mexico

By William Ulwelling, M.D.
Albuquerque Journal, July 8, 2015

The New Mexico chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program has adopted Sister Blandina Segale as our patron saint for universal health care.

A year ago, on June 29, 2014, Sr. Blandina Segale, a Sister of Charity who lived from 1850-1941, was formally put forward as a candidate for sainthood by the Archbishop of Santa Fe, the position now held by Archbishop John C. Wester. If her cause is eventually approved by Pope Francis, she would be the first New Mexico Saint.

Sister Blandina and the Sisters of Charity essentially founded the New Mexico health care system in the 19th century frontier (St. Vincent’s in Santa Fe, St. Joseph’s in Albuquerque, and other New Mexico health care facilities.)

By adopting Sister Blandina as patron saint of universal health care, the New Mexico chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program celebrates New Mexico’s long-standing commitment to universal health care.

Among her many projects, Sister Blandina’s efforts to provide health care to anyone in need took up a large portion of her time and energy. Her dedication to universal care for the sick often was controversial, and sometimes got her in trouble.

On one occasion she took vegetables from Archbishop Lamy’s garden to feed her poor patients. On another occasion she provided medical care for a member of Billy the Kid’s gang who had been refused care by the four local MD’s – an early case of an ostracized uninsured.

One of Sister Blandina’s still-surviving institutions, St. Joseph’s Child Care Center in Albuquerque, is a member of Catholic Health Initiative. True to its traditions, CHI lists universal health care as priority No. 1 in its statement of goals.

Achievement of universal health care through a national health plan is the goal of Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization of over 19,000 American physicians.

Although our state and our nation are now vastly more wealthy than in the frontier days of Sister Blandina, our still-primitive health care system leaves over 30 million without medical insurance. This exceeds the entire population of America at the time Sister Blandina arrived in New Mexico.

Health care experts agree that an improved-Medicare-for-all system would not only provide universal care, but also reduce our national health care expenditures and provide us with a rational health care system – like all the other industrialized nations of the world.

However, powerful parties with a vested interest in maintaining the current system have been able to suppress this reform in America. Compassion and common sense have been overcome by the political power of the vested interests.

Sister Blandina represents the triumph of compassion. Some say that universal health care in America or New Mexico would be a miracle – perhaps it could be the first miracle attributed to the intercession of Sister Blandina.

By adopting Sister Blandina as our patron saint of universal health care, the New Mexico chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program hopes she can inspire us all in our continued efforts towards health care for everyone.

Dr. William Ulwelling is co-chair of the New Mexico Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.