Churches work to pay off millions of dollars in medical debt for people across North Carolina

Cindy Bae Image
Wednesday, June 19, 2024
NC churches work to help relieve medical debt
"Does it eliminate every single financial woe? No, but it does reduce the burden," one priest said.

Rev. Kate Byrd knows the emotional toll of medical debt after seeing the bills pile up for her family member after cancer treatment.

"This person had three forms of insurance and was receiving in one or two bills, tens of thousands of dollars' worth of medical debt," Byrd said. "It was shocking to me."

When she heard about the nonprofit Undue Medical Debt, which works to relieve the financial burden caused by medical debt, she decided to join in on the efforts.

"It was so clear to me that one medical crisis could undo your entire life and family, and so if there was something that we could do that was as small as just a campaign to help, I thought, 'This seems wonderful.'"

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Smithfield is the latest in to take an interest in abolishing $14 million in medical debt in Johnston County.

This comes as other churches across the state have worked to erase medical debts in their counties, such as Wilson County, where Father Paul Castelli led the effort as the rector at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.

"It just seems like a really natural thing to do on a regular basis," Castelli said.

Wilson County helped erase $4.6 million for nearly 2,500 residents in 2023. Castelli wanted to continue for a second year with the organization, which pledges to erase $100 of medical debt for each dollar donated during the campaign.

"I know even when people received a letter saying that their debt has been abolished, they have a hard time believing it," Castelli said. "But they come to realize that it is indeed true, and it's an amazing gift."

Castelli has moved on to a new venture in West Virginia working in campus ministry, but said he's glad to see other churches take an interest in this and hopes the effort expands across the Episcopal Church's entire Diocese of North Carolina.

"Does it eliminate every single financial woe? No, but it does reduce the burden," Castelli said. "I'm hoping these campaigns, these stories, inspire other people in our diocese to do the same thing."