A new era for women's health care? This Catholic clinic hopes so
While the phrase “women’s health” often conjures up images of artificial hormones, devices, and pills, one natural health care center in the Denver area is hoping to transform the way women receive care – one patient at a time, reports Catholic News Agency.
“Women’s dignity is the forefront and center of what we do,” said nurse practitioner Abby Sinnett, co-founder of Bella Natural Women’s Care.
“A woman is beautiful and strong and can do amazing things, which is exhibited when they have a baby – it is beautiful what women can do,” she told CNA Dec. 8, the day before Bella’s grand opening.
Bella is a new non-profit medical practice located in Denver, Colo., which provides health care for all women, from adolescence through menopause and beyond. Their hope is to create a holistic approach to caring for women in mind, body, and spirit, dealing with a full range of issues from infertility to weight loss.
The practice will be run in full alignment with Church teaching, although Sinnett explained that they hope to attract non-Catholics as well, particularly those drawn to the truth and beauty of a natural, dignified approach to women’s health care.
“The hallmark of what we are doing here is remembering how beautifully and wonderfully we were created, and how women deserve to be cared for very well,” Sinnett explained.
“Our hearts of seeking that. We are seeking that in all ways, a created soul will seek its Creator. Our lost souls are seeking the reverence we were made to have,” said Bella co-founder Dede Chism.
Also a nurse practitioner, Chism is Sinnett’s mother. The two founded the health care practice together after the idea arose on a mission trip to Peru. Chism and Sinnett were struck by their freedom to treat patients in accordance with their dignity, without pressure to offer contraception or abortion as a “solution” to health problems.
Inspired to bring their mission home to Colorado, they decided to start a natural women’s health clinic that would uphold the dignity of women and give them the care they deserve, respecting life at all stages.
“This is a project which we had been discerning earlier with Archbishop (Charles) Chaput and Bishop (James) Conley, and confirmed with Archbishop (Samuel) Aquila. When we were all very certain in a concrete way that the Holy Spirit was saying, ‘Now is the time to create a comprehensive women’s healthcare practice,’ that was about two years ago, right around this time,” Chism told CNA.
After much thought and prayer, Chism and Sinnett settled on the name “Bella,” a word which means “beautiful” in Spanish and Italian, but means “war” in Latin, a reflection of their understanding of the “beautiful war” that is being waged for a natural, uplifting approach in women’s health care.
A grand opening ceremony and dedication took place Dec. 9. At the gathering, Archbishop Aquila called Bella “a tremendous blessing to the archdiocese and the broader community.” He noted that more than 100 women have already registered as patients at Bella, saying this is a testament to the fact that women are hungry for respectful, dignified care.
Joining Bella’s health care practice is Dr. Steve Hickner, a doctor with 23 years experience as an OB-GYN from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who felt God calling him to serve the Church on a deeper level.
“When our last kid went off to college – call it a mid-life crisis – I told my wife that I would like to do something else. I felt that God was calling me to do something more,” Dr. Hickner stated.
He and his wife moved to Lander, Wyoming, founding a practice where they served for two and a half years. The practice was busy and successful, but Hickner soon felt that he was being called to Omaha, Nebraska, where he was invited to a fellowship at the Pope Paul VI Institute.
There, he learned medical and surgical NaProTechnology, a method of women’s healthcare that seeks to treat root problems rather than symptoms, relying upon scientific means of monitoring reproductive health.
It was during his fellowship that Chism and Sinnett called Dr. Hickner about the genesis of their natural women’s care center.
“We called Dr. Hickner and basically told him what our vision was, and he started to mentor us,” Chism recalled, saying that after about eight months, they asked Hickner and his wife to start praying about a more permanent relationship with Bella’s clinic.
“Obviously, their vision matches very closely to what I imagined God was calling me to do,” Hickner stated, saying that they all collaborated together and discussed the foundations of Bella.
“He started as our mentor and guide, which was a beautiful way to build our relationship. Then, through their prayerful discernment and our prayerful discernment, we realized that it was all part of the beautiful orchestra that the Lord had put together,” Chism reflected.
“I am just a small, mid-western doc who tried to gain the skill set, and tried to follow Christ,” Dr. Hickner said, voicing excitement to support the vision of Bella as its medical director.
“Probably most practically, I will care for women, help them to restore their health, or help affirm their health. I will see patients - all women, of any color, race, and any financial means,” he said, adding that Bella’s door is always open.
“Dr. Hickner’s specialty is very unique, in the United States in general. There are only a handful of people who can do what he can do, and what he does is restorative,” Chism observed.
When asked about her hopes for the future of Bella, Chism stated that she wants the team to utilize every gift, talent, and skill they possess to fulfill God’s plan in every circumstance that crosses their doors.
She emphasized how humbled she was to be able to practice with people of amazing faith, who blend character with competence.
“It is very humbling to be able to walk this journey with these guys,” she reflected.
“My goal is that every woman will see Christ in us and we can see Christ in them,” stated Sinnett, voicing hope that through Bella, they will be able to build a home in their clinic for the women they care for.
Dr. Hickner reflected that his goal as medical director will be to “take something from the Rule of St. Benedict: Care must be taken of the sick like they are Christ in person. So, we must care for the women who come through the door as if they are Christ in person.”
“Therefore, we need to shout it from the Rocky Mountain tops and beyond, and so hopefully further the work of the second Vatican Council,” Hickner said, explaining that “the Church exists to spread the Gospel and that is what we are trying to do, in the care for women.”