WHEAT RIDGE — In her mind's eye, Sue Wood still clearly sees the young man burned head to toe in a grease fire.
He had fled a hospital emergency room to seek help at Wide Horizon, a nonmedical religious nursing-care center.
"He was in tough shape," said Wood, the center's director of nursing.
The burn victim, in his early 20s, was a Christian Scientist. When ER doctors told him he faced six months of skin-graft surgeries, he turned to his religion.
His religion told him to rely on prayer for healing.
His religion told him "he is the spiritual image and likeness of God instead of a material, biological being." That the material world and suffering are illusory. That suffering is an error resulting from sin or fear. And that healing is "the natural outcome of gaining this spiritual realization."
"The more clearly we see God's love," Wood said, "the greater the alleviation of pain and suffering."
And the Church of Christ, Scientist is lobbying the federal government to give its members an option to buy health insurance that covers this kind of spiritual care.
Wood said her nurses put the burned man in the shower, where they peeled off his bandages and rinsed away the medication. They replaced the bandages with clean ones.
Over the weeks, they kept him clean and covered. They also applied their spiritual principles. And he made dramatic progress. As Wood remembers, he returned to work in a little more than a month.
When the bandages were removed for good, "he was crying, and we were crying too," she said. "He has no noticeable scars."
For 60 years, Wide Horizon, which sits high on a Wheat Ridge hillside, has offered spiritual care and healing. The center serves seven states: Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, Wyoming and Nebraska.
The center practices Christian Science, a theology and healing system founded by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston in 1879.
The church is grounded in the Bible and in Eddy's primary textbook on Christian Science, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures."
"What Christ Jesus practiced and taught 2,000 years ago is still applicable. Those spiritual laws are eternal laws," said Wide Horizon executive director D. Brian Boettiger. "Mrs. Eddy was a pioneer leader who rediscovered those laws."
Wide Horizon has 29 beds and a staff of 39, including 22 nurses.
What you won't see at Wide Horizon are bottles of pills, medicine-filled cabinets, IV stands or X-ray equipment. You won't see any diagnostic machinery or even a doctor. There is a cat in residence.
Without medicine to give or blood-pressure gauges to read, what do all those nurses do? Wood says nursing means to nurture, nourish, foster and promote.
Training for "basic nursing arts" entails a couple of months in the classroom and nine to 12 months of mentored on-the-job instruction.
Advanced training involves an additional six weeks in the classroom and another year of instruction on the job. Christian Science nurses are not licensed by the state.
"If the government is going to take the extraordinary step of requiring Americans to buy health insurance, they should be responsive to the kinds of health care Americans are relying on," said Gary Jones, federal manager of the Christian Science Committee on Publication. "That should include skilled nonmedical nursing care and treatment through prayer."
Religious nonmedical health care institutions are covered by Medicare, the federal employees' health-benefits program and some programs for U.S. military personnel.
In addition to 600 Christian Science nurses and 33 nursing- care centers in the U.S., there are, church literature says, 1,500 individual Christian Science practitioners worldwide who take an intensive two- week course and have "a proven record" of healing.
They typically charge $20 to $60 a day.
At Wide Horizon, rates range from $150 a day for a single room and an hour of nursing care to $420 a day for a single room an average of six hours of nursing care.
A few hundred private insurance products once covered religious nonmedical health care institutions, but the number has dwindled to a handful, Boettiger said.
"What we want," Jones said, "is for spiritual care to be an option for insurance coverage available through the insurance exchanges."
In late 2009, there was a provision in the health care reform bill to give Christian Science treatments some parity with clinical medicine as substitute or supplemental treatments. The provision would have prohibited discrimination against religious and spiritual health care.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, with the support of Democratic Massachusetts Sens. John Kerry and the late Edward Kennedy, put in the provision.
However, opponents, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, got it taken out. Critics argued that conferring that kind of legitimacy on practices outside "scientific medicine" was a slippery slope to set foot on.
"We haven't given up," Jones said.
Much of the reform legislation doesn't go into effect until 2014.
The mandated coverage currently allows some exemptions for religious organizations that have structures in place that already cover a group's health care expenses. Examples of these include the Amish system and some health care ministries.
Christian Scientists tend to be healthy and independent, Wood said, but they are also a practical people and recognize a need for nursing care, especially long-term care for the very old.
"If we have to buy health care, we should at least have access to a policy we would use," said Peter Van Vleck, the church's Colorado media and legislative liaison.
Jones said the church is not asking for a special provision for itself but for freedom for all Americans who would choose nontraditional care.
Even within Christian Science, there is a diversity of needs.
"Our church does not require us to use prayer only," Van Vleck said. "Our church does not punish us for getting a bone set or receiving any kind of medical treatment. It's the individual's choice. Such treatment could be a temporary means, a step, that enables someone to take the next step to complete reliance on God."
In Colorado, there are 28 Christian Science branch churches and societies. The Denver area is home to about half of them. The church does not quote membership numbers.
Worldwide, there are more than 1,800 church branches and societies.
Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or email@example.com