By ELLEN FRANCIS HARRIS
A good deed changed James J. Rooney's career. Co-workers at Mercy Neighborhood Ministry in St. Louis were preparing several homeless people for job interviews in 2010. One man needed eyeglasses. They asked Rooney, manager of Mercy Eye Care, part of Mercy Hospital St. Louis, what he could do. Rooney provided the eye exam and glasses free of charge.
Co-workers at Mercy Neighborhood Ministry, an off-site department of Mercy Hospital St. Louis that focuses on community health and access, then suggested Rooney think larger: develop and operate a new outreach program. Armed with a business plan and $15,000 from Mercy Health Foundation of St. Louis, the philanthropic organization supporting many Mercy outreach programs, Rooney dug in and started Mercy Eye Care Ministry.
Today, Rooney is the director of Mercy Eye Care Ministry in addition to running the three Mercy retail eye care shops with 22 employees. With an annual budget of $65,000, Mercy Eye Care Ministry helps up to 600 low-income, uninsured or underinsured people every year at three Missouri locations receive eye exams and prescription glasses. Some are non-English speaking immigrants without insurance like Sedigheh Baghi.
Baghi calls Mercy Eye Care Ministry "a blessing. I'm very happy to be under their care," she said through her daughter, Mariam, who translated. A Persian émigré, Baghi, 66, had been referred by the Mercy JFK Clinic, at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, seven years ago.