Better for being with you: Health Wagon founder and colleague write of reflection on life

Mike Still • Dec 18, 2019 at 6:30 PM

WISE — Thirty years ago, Sister Bernadette Kenny and Tauna Gulley worked together in Clinchco, Virginia, on providing health care to people who could not afford to go to a doctor or hospital.

Kenny and Gulley now have recounted that and three decades of health care work in Southwest Virginia in their book, “Better For Being With You.”

Gulley — who recalled working with Kenny when she arrived in Clinchco in the late 1980s to conduct medical work as a sister of the Order of Medical Missionaries of Mary — said she had been nudging Kenny for several years to write about her experiences in Southwest Virginia as well as her medical work in east Africa.

Kenny’s mission in Clinchco evolved into the original Health Wagon, an institution in far Southwest Virginia, as Kenney persuaded area hospitals, businesses, local governments and state and federal legislators to support her efforts to make basic health care available.

Within a decade, Kenny had enlisted Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical in creating an annual summer free clinic in Wise County. Over the last two decades, the RAM clinic has grown and changed, so the Health Wagon now oversees partnerships with local and regional health care providers and hopes to expand its mission into neighboring states.

Kenny retired in the early 2000s, and she credited the current Health Wagon director, Teresa Tyson, another early co-worker, and nursing director Paula Hill-Collins with carrying out its original mission.

At a book signing Tuesday at the Health Wagon’s Wise clinic, Kenny and Gulley talked about their book.

While “Better For Being With You” is partially autobiographical, Kenny and Gulley each said the book asks its readers to consider their own philosophy of caring for others in a way that considers the patient’s culture.

“The reflection questions we hope people will respond to,” Kenny said. “It will help in their enrichment of life.”

Kenny said the book’s title came from a conversation she had with a psychotherapist who heard her say “better for being with you” to patients.

“She said, ‘You say that all the time and why do you say it?’ ” Kenny recalled. “She said, ‘It empowers people. They feel better, and it’s mutual. That should be the title of your book.’ ”

Gulley in 2017 toured Ireland and found herself at the Medical Missionaries of Mary’s house, where sisters there still asked about Kenny.

“There on the wall was a picture of Bernie’s house in Clinchco,” Gulley said with a laugh. “I travelled to Ireland to see her house there, and I end up seeing her house here.”

Tracy Gilmore, who drove the Health Wagon for Kenny when it was just a mobile exam van in its early years, said she did some nudging for Kenny to write the book while Gilley did the heavy pushing.

“Sister Bernie taught me to drive a stick,” Gilmore said, laughing, when asked what it was like to work with Kenny.

Hill-Collins said she wanted Kenny to have her photo on the cover of the book, but Bernie chose a sunset landscape of Dickenson County by local photographer Brad Deel.

“It embodies the environment and that we’re not under all the pain,” Kenny said. “We’re able to shake it off.”