As the result of a vision given to Ellen White at Rochester, New York, on December 25, 1865, the first Seventh-day Adventist health-care institution was established in Battle Creek, Michigan, on September 5, 1866. First known as the Western Health Reform Institute, it later became world renowned as the Battle Creek Sanitarium.
From this humble beginning, health-care institutions have increased until the Seventh-day Adventist Church now owns and operates more than 140 around the world. In addition, there are many more owned and operated by Seventh-day Adventists as self-supporting institutions.
With success come both danger and opportunity. If a successful pattern appears to have been established, there is a temptation simply to keep a good thing going. Certainly there is a temptation today to consider institutions as ends in themselves rather than as having goals and objectives that are much larger than the institutions themselves.
We live in a world of change, and our medical institutions must constantly adapt to ever-changing circumstances. An example is the conversion of sanitariums to acute-care hospitals. The danger is that this may move our institutions away from their original goals and objectives. On the other hand, may it constitute an opportunity to reorganize and move more closely to the original objectives?
As we face new problems we need divine guidance in making decisions. The current "health-care crisis" recognizes that the skyrocketing costs of medical care are largely the result of the increased cost in operating acute-care hospitals. The financial burden placed on individuals and on nations is reflected in political moves that lead to increased government control. Seventh-day Adventist institutions must either decide to resist this control, go along with it, or seek to take the initiative our goals and objectives being clear adapting or supplementing our program in ways that cooperate with the intent of control. For example, the government seeks to decrease the cost of health care. We can cooperate with this objective by placing greater emphasis on home-health-care and preventive-care pro grams in hospitals and their communities.
Objectives Should Be Clear
It seems that as a church we need to have a clear vision of the goals and objectives of our health-care institutions. There is no place for an institution whose major goal is simply to keep operating. Fortunately for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the inspiration that began our medical network has set forth basic principles that can and must be adopted, and these will assure success even in these troubled times.
"He [the Lord] desires our health institutions to stand as witnesses for the truth. They are to give character to the work which must be carried forward in these last days in restoring man through a reformation of the habits, appetites, and passions. Seventh-day Adventists are to be represented to the world by the advance principles of health reform which God has given us. Still greater truths are unfolding for this people as we draw near the close of time, and God designs that we shall everywhere establish institutions where those who are in darkness in regard to the needs of the human organism may be educated, that they in their turn may lead others into the light of health re form" —Medical Ministry, p. 187 (1899).
Goals and Objectives
What are the basic goals and objectives of Seventh-day Adventist health institutions? They can be summarized under five headings:
1. Seventh-day Adventist health-care institutions should be unique and different from all others in the world. To imitate and directly compete is not God's plan.
"We never proposed to establish sanitariums to have them run in nearly the same grooves as other institutions. If we do not have a sanitarium which is, in many things, decidedly contrary to other institutions, we can see nothing gained." —Letter 72, 1896.
"The Lord years ago gave me special light in regard to the establishment of a health institution where the sick could be treated on altogether different lines from those followed in any other institution in our world." —Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 223 (1900).
"These institutions [sanitariums] are the Lord's agencies for the revival of a pure, elevated morality. We do not establish them as a speculative business, but to help men and women to follow right habits of living." —Counsels on Health, p. 249 (1912).
"Sanitariums are needed, in which successful medical and surgical work can be done." —Medical Ministry, p. 26 (1903).
2. Seventh-day Adventist health-care institutions are designed to be primarily educational centers. People are to be taught how to reason from cause to effect and to understand that the laws of nature are the laws of God.
"God desires suffering human beings to be taught how to avoid sickness by the practice of correct habits of eating, drinking, and dressing. Many are suffering under the oppressive power of sinful practices, who might be restored to health by an intelligent observance of the laws of life and health, by cooperating with Him who died that they might have eternal life. . . . This is the work that is to be done in our sanitarium." —Counsels on Health, p. 221.
"There is a great work to be done for suffering humanity in relieving their sufferings by the use of the natural agencies that God has provided and in teaching them how to prevent sickness by the regulation of the appetites and passions. The people should be taught that transgression of the laws of nature is transgression of the laws of God. . . . Our sanitariums are an education power to teach the people in these lines." —Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 224, 225(1900).
"In all our medical institutions, patients should be systematically and carefully instructed how to prevent dis ease by a wise course of action. Through lectures, and the consistent practice of the principles of healthful living on the part of consecrated physicians and nurses, the blinded understanding of many will be opened, and truths never before thought of will be fastened on the mind. Many of the patients will be led to keep the body in the most healthy condition possible, because it is the Lord's purchased possession." —Counsels on Health, p. 470 (1908).
"I saw that the reason why God did not hear the prayers of His servants for the sick among us more fully was that He could not be glorified in so doing while they were violating the laws of health. And I also saw that He designed the health reform and Health Institute to prepare the way for the prayer of faith to be fully answered." —Ibid., p. 247.
3. Seventh-day Adventist health-care institutions should be more than public relations organizations. Like every other branch of the church, they are to save souls and provide a strong spiritual witness.
"Let every means be devised to bring about the saving of souls in our medical institutions. This is our work." —Medical Ministry, p. 191 (1902).
"Our sanitariums are to be an agency for bringing peace and rest to the troubled minds." —Ibid., p. 109 (1905).
"The conversion of souls is the one great object to be sought for in our medical institutions. It is for this that these institutions are established." —Evangelism, p. 537 (1902).
4. Recognizing the high calling of Seventh-day Adventist health-care institutions, it is understandable that they should be strongly denominational in character and operated by those who know and understand the goals and objectives of the church.
"A special effort should be made to secure the services of conscientious, Christian workers. It is the purpose of God that a health institution should be organized and controlled exclusively by Seventh-day Adventists; and when unbelievers are brought in to occupy responsible positions, an influence is presiding there that will tell with great weight against the sanitarium." —Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 556 (1881).
"If those connected with the sanitarium are not in every respect correct representatives of the truths of health reform, decided reformation must make them what they should be, or they must be separated from the institution." —Ibid., p. 582 (1881).
"It is of utmost importance that harmony exist in our institutions. Better for the work to go crippled than for workers who are not fully devoted to be employed." —Medical Ministry, p. 207 (1903).
5. God's design for Seventh-day Adventist health-care institutions involves having many institutions in many places, preferably in rural locations. They are not only to treat the sick and provide health education but also to train medical missionary workers to lead others into the light of health re form.
"It is that thirsting souls may be led to the living water that we plead for sanitariums, not expensive, mammoth sanitariums, but homelike institutions, in pleasant places. . . . The sick are to be reached, not by massive buildings, but by the establishment of many small sanitariums, which are to be as lights shining in a dark place." —Ibid., p. 323 (1905).
"It is the Lord's will that these institutions shall be established outside the city. They should be situated in the country, in the midst of surroundings as attractive as possible." —Counsels on Health, p. 265.
"The proclamation of the truth in all parts of the world calls for small sanitariums in many places, not in the heart of cities, but in places where city influences will be as little felt as possible." —Medical Ministry, p. 159 (1903).
"Every sanitarium established by Seventh-day Adventists is to be con ducted on educational lines. . . . All our institutions are to be training schools.
Especially is this true with regard to our sanitariums." —Ibid., p. 175 (1902).
"There should be sanitariums near all our large cities. ... In these institutions men and women are to be taught how to care for their own bodies, and at the same time how to become sound in the faith." —Ibid., p. 324 (1905).
Application of these principles or objectives is not always easy. As they are kept clearly in mind, however, current opportunities for implementation are apparent. The increasing recognition that health and disease are the result of life-style gives Seventh-day Adventist health-care institutions the incentive and opportunity to fulfill their intended educational and reformatory role. As the live-in programs to produce behavior change gain increased support, such programs need to be added to present institutions, as satellites to existing institutions, or new institutions need to be developed. It may be necessary in some instances to change completely or convert some institutions.
The strong national push in the United States to reorganize health care as an attempt to reduce its cost suggests opportunities for organizing new non commercial forms of medical missionary work that train and utilize volunteers to provide education and simple health care as an outreach of a church or institution. The ecology emphasis encourages the use of hot and cold and other rational forms of hydrotherapy that fight infection by increasing host defenses without promoting the development of resistant organisms. Especially does an increasingly drug-oriented society need to understand that health of body and mind comes from following the laws of nature and not from chemicals.
Never was there a time when there was a greater desire or a greater need for bringing peace and rest to troubled minds. Only a strong, practical spiritual approach can provide this. Truly the opportunities for emphasizing the unique goals and objectives of Seventh-day Adventist health-care institutions are tremendous!