Standing near the burnt remains of Mud Creek clinic, Eula Hall was devastated.
It was 1982, and the healthcare clinic she’d founded 9 years earlier with two doctors in Eastern Kentucky, had grown to become an absolute pillar of the community. It was a vital resource to thousands of patients in the region who couldn’t afford care.
But one night, it all went up in flames. Authorities told her it was arson, but no one was ever charged.
After the fire, many wondered if the clinic would survive. But those doubters didn’t know Eula. She convinced the telephone company to set up a telephone on a tree outside the rubble, and worked with clinic staffers to collect supplies from local stores. They ended up running the clinic with only a picnic table, until they could move into a school cafeteria.
Eventually, she fundraised and received grants to rebuild the clinic, which still stands today, renamed the Eula Hall Health Center in her honor, and treats up to 20,000 patients a year.
Eula, who would become known as “The Mother Teresa of Mud Creek”, worked as a patient advocate in the clinic until her passing in 2020, at the age of 93. As a patient advocate, she raised money for the clinic, and sometimes gave out of her own salary to help poor people cover co-payments. She also helped keep the food pantry going and arranged rides to the clinic for people without transportation. In the early years of the clinic, she would drive to patients’ homes to deliver medicine.
Her efforts even attracted the attention of the world. She gave Senator Ted Kennedy a tour when he came to Eastern Kentucky while surveying hunger in America, and she was honored alongside Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. She also met with Jesse Jackson when he visited her clinic to advocate for health care. While she only went to school until the 8th grade, she’s been awarded 4 honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the nation.
But she never set out to earn accolades or praise. She once said, “I just wanted to be somebody that could help people.” (1)
This drive to serve and help her community with healthcare began in her youth, when she saw neighbors and classmates suffer and die from tetanus, typhoid, whooping cough, and many other easily treatable diseases.
She also watched her mother nearly bleed to death from childbirth complications because they couldn’t afford a doctor. From a young age, Eula knew she wanted to make access to healthcare her life mission.
An article describes that the clinic she started now “offers a range of medical services these days, including primary care, dental care, optometry and a pharmacy.
“About 40 percent of the patients are Medicaid participants, but the clinic has a sliding fee scale for uninsured people and provides free care if needed… The clinic at Mud Creek became part of Big Sandy Health Care in 1977, allowing it to receive federal money. Big Sandy has clinics in Floyd, Pike, Magoffin and Martin counties.
“In terms of access to health care and the quality of care, Eastern Kentucky is a different, much-improved region now than when Eula was a child. The need remains great, however, and her philosophy on access to care remains straightforward: Everyone should be entitled to adequate health care.” (1)
“Nobody should have to suffer for the lack of health care in a country like ours.” She said. “People’s not poor by choice.” (1)
I love the story of Eula Hall, a true hero of healthcare. Her story is unique, influential, and moving. But so is each of ours.
While our stories might not be featured in the Washington Post, NY Times, or other news outlets around the country like Eula’s was, we don’t have to look far to find real examples of healthcare heroes.
I’m sure you’ve met some of them. The CNA who’s working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet, all while connecting with patients on a level most of us will never know as they perform the routine, often thankless work of sustaining life. The administrator who helps everyone remain calm and collected in a crisis, but has painful struggles of their own, such as a failing marriage. The doctor on call who sacrifices sleep again and again throughout their life to respond to emergencies. The nurse who compassionately and genuinely matches the tears of their patients with their own. The environmental staff member who keeps a smile on their face, and offers an encouraging, uplifting word to patients as they take out trash.
All these examples and many others have been real heroes in my life. And I know there are countless others who, just like Eula Hall, tirelessly work to be a blessing and a benefit in the lives of others.
How would healthcare look today, if we all had the determination, compassion, and the desire to serve like Eula Hall?
To read more about Eula Hall’s incredible life, check out these references below: