“Put us head to head with any Planned Parenthood clinic, and people will choose us.” Dr. John Bruchalski, an OB/GYN in Fairfax, Virginia, told me how his Divine Mercy Care organization can transform national health care. DMC presently consists of an obstetrics and gynecology facility, the Tepeyac Family Center, and the DMC Pharmacy, opened almost a year ago.
Dr. Bruchalski has become a much-beloved Catholic physician in northern Virginia since he and his wife, Carolyn, a registered nurse, started the practice in their basement in 1993. The Tepeyac Family Center, with six NFP-only physicians and one nurse practitioner, is the largest pro-life OB/GYN practice of its kind in the nation.
Bruchalski’s vision of pro-life medical care goes beyond the rejection of abortion and contraception as medical options. He was emphatic when he told me, “I have to see the underserved in my daily life.” As a result, Tepeyac is the largest provider of obstetric services to Medicaid patients in northern Virginia.
DMC has three pillars, according to Bruchalski: to offer excellent medicine, serve the underserved, and make daily use of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. These commitments grew out of Bruchalski’s own conversion from conventional obstetrics as a medical student and resident.
I asked what changed his view of medicine. “We were taught to believe that fertility could be controlled and would lead to happiness,” he said, “but my experience changed my mind. Just the opposite was the case: diseases were becoming epidemic; relationships broke up; women using contraceptives were being hurt by being subjected to men — all leading to sadness, depression, and loss of libido.”
It was a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe that enabled him to see what was happening to women. Standing at the back of the shrine, waiting to see the image, he heard an interior voice say, “Why are you hurting me?” He says he didn’t understand it at the time but recalls, “It was a very feminine voice, very kind and understanding, but very direct.” After he returned to school, Bruchalski realized it was the voice of the Blessed Mother.
Later, on a trip to Medjugorje, he met a young woman from Belgium who gave him a list of 50 things that would come to pass in his life. Forty-five of them have happened, including starting a new practice and creating a new paradigm for health care.
The new paradigm, first of all, means spending more time with patients. “We utilize a holistic approach because many physical ailments are due to relational issues. That involves time spent listening to patients, praying with them, and helping them to find the resources they need. We have learned that suffering is not there to be fought, but to be utilized to realize what it means to be human: an opportunity to move outside of yourself.”
“This is the way to true renewal in health care — not handing it over to the government to administer,” Bruchalski explained. “Government programs are not the way to go; they will remove the doctor from the patient and threaten personal liberty.” He insists that the community is the best place to provide medical care, where “judgment stays in the hands of patients and doctors.”
Given the additional time spent with patients, the service provided to the underserved, and the decreasing reimbursement by insurance companies, DMC has switched to a non-profit business model. “In medicine today, if you try to do it fee-for-service, in certain specialties it is very difficult to make money,” says Bruchalski. With an ongoing direct mail campaign and a very popular annual gala, on November 14 this year, DMC has kept its head above the water. But their DMC Pharmacy is in particular need of greater support in the form of more customers.
Tucked away in a shopping center in Chantilly, Virginia, the pharmacy is run by Robert Sembler, a veteran pharmacist who ran his own pro-life drug store before coming to DMC. Just before its opening, the pharmacy was attacked by the Washington Post for not selling contraceptives and, in particular, the Plan B “emergency” contraceptive.
Sembler hopes that pro-lifers and Catholics will realize the importance of using the DMC Pharmacy for their prescriptions, even if the store is not conveniently located for them. He showed me how anyone could fill in a form online, or over the phone, and have his or her prescriptions mailed to the home for a small fee. (I signed up on the spot.)
Dr. Bruchalski wants the work of DMC to grow, not merely survive. With more financial support he could hire some of the many physicians who have contacted him saying they want to work in a pro-life practice. New physicians would bring in additional patients, which would get Tepeyac to the point of breaking even; 400 new customers at the pharmacy would do the same.
As I began wrapping up the interview, Dr. Bruchalski stopped me — the evangelist in him insisted on making one point, and it was a powerful summary of what Divine Mercy Care represents.
“We cannot always take a pill to get rid of a medical problem. The body and the soul are unified, but science has divorced them. The growth of the alternative medicine industry shows that people are seeking a relationship with their physician. Being a physician is more than being a technician, more than being a dispenser of medicine. It is a vocation.”