LEFT: A parking lot in Hurley, Virginia, serves as the waiting room for the “health wagon.”
RIGHT: Sister Bernie, as she was called, examining a young patient.
"On Remote and Dangerous Roads, She Piloted the 'Health Wagon'"
Sister Bernadette Kenny, a nurse practitioner, was honored in 1998 for her work providing health care to poor residents in rural Virginia. Traveling remote and often dangerous roads, she piloted a converted Winnebago camper, known as the “health wagon,” bringing free medical services to people who had no access to care or were too poor to afford it. She was known as “the medical woman” to the residents of Dickenson and Buchanan counties in Virginia, an economically depressed coal mining region where unemployment exceeded 20 percent and 25 percent of residents lived below the poverty level at the time. “Sister Bernie” was known for treating the whole person, listening carefully as her patients shared their life crises that included marital problems, child abuse and alcoholism. Many of her patients also suffered from depression.
In a place where Catholics amounted to less than one percent of the population, Sister Bernie organized health fairs, wrote grant proposals, led adult education classes and taught religious education to high school students in her parish. She also served as a Eucharistic minister and a resource to the parish council and liturgy team. Said one witness to her ministry, “I can feel the presence of God working through her.”