Doctors form alliance of compassion

March 23, 1995|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Forget national health care reform. Dr. Gary Milles already has found a way to help those who can't afford medical insurance -- and Columbia resident Mahmoud Fahmy-Esmaell is thankful for that.

The unemployed chef gets free medical treatment for his sinus and asthma problems through an alliance of nearly 60 physicians started last October by Dr. Milles, an Ellicott City internist.

"Now I can smell, and I'm breathing nicely," Mr. Fahmy-Esmaell said.

Since the Physician Alliance for Patients in Need began, the doctors have treated 23 patients for medical problems, including diabetes, asthma and a broken foot. The alliance includes primary care physicians, pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists and others.

"It's very positive for the community," Dr. Milles said. "You go into medicine to make an impact on a community. You want to give back to the community."

Dr. Milles formed the alliance last year as a way to help the homeless, unemployed and others without medical insurance. He was inspired by two student nurses from the University of Maryland who were working on a class project to provide health care to the homeless.

"This seemed elegantly simple to me," said Dr. Milles, who lost no time contacting doctors he had met last year as president of Howard County General Hospital's professional staff.

To get help from the alliance, patients must be referred by a social services agency, the county health department or the school system. The physicians agree to see one patient for as long as the patient needs the service.

And despite Howard County's affluent reputation, doctors and social service officials say there is need for free medical care, especially for those who are temporarily unemployed or working and without access to health care.

The alliance "is most helpful for single adults who are not eligible for anything else," said Andrea Ingram, director of Grassroots, a Columbia program that provides shelter, food and crisis intervention. That can include those whose employers do not offer health insurance but who are not eligible for public assistance.

Without the alliance, such patients can go without medical treatment or visit hospital emergency rooms, social service providers say. By the time patients see a doctor, their medical conditions may have worsened.

"Any patient needs a provider who knows their medical history and can be their physician for complete medical care," said Dr. Jerry Seals, an internist who works with Dr. Milles. "The emergency room is not intended for the care of the common cold."

Among those who have been helped by the program is Maria Agosto, a Savage resident who works as a teacher's aide but doesn't have medical insurance.

"I only work two hours a day and I really can't afford big doctor bills," said Ms. Agosto, who was recently hospitalized for bronchitis and asthma after she was unable to see a doctor.

Under the alliance, Ms. Agosto saw a primary care physician who last week referred her to a lung specialist. "Now, whenever I'm sick, I don't have to worry about how I'm going to pay," she said.

The program has helped Mr. Fahmy-Esmaell and his wife save their money for bills and food.

"If he wasn't getting care, we'd be out in the streets," said Lisa Fahmy-Esmaell. "It's a fantastic program."

Dr. Milles eventually would like to expand the program to include nurse practitioners and up to 100 physicians.

"I want to be able to extend this to anybody who needs it," Dr. Milles said.

Said Dr. Carole Parnes, an Ellicott City pediatrician who is part of the alliance: "It's a very worthwhile cause and we need to help our own."

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