From cash to cultural commodities

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DeVette McGhee: She...

January 07, 1996|By Carl Schoettler

From cash to cultural commodities; DeVette McGhee: She left the New York world of high finance to open an Afrocentric store in Baltimore.

DeVette McGhee says "amani" means faith in Islamic Swahili, and that with faith "anything is possible."

So she packed up her flourishing career as a financial analyst with Wall Street securities firms, returned to Baltimore and opened a shop selling Afrocentric clothing, art and artifacts. She calls it Amani's. It's on Belair Road just north of Erdman Avenue, next to La Fontaine Rouge.

"I thought it was time for me to come back home and start a business, a venture," she says, "and add to Baltimore the uniqueness of me."

And if she's not quite unique, she's pretty unusual. With sculptured features that would grace a Benin bronze, she's striking enough to be her own best model. She's 6 feet tall, 30-ish and licensed to sell government bonds. She grew up in Glen Burnie, played basketball in high school and got a scholarship to St. Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J., where she studied accounting.

She landed a training job with E. F. Hutton and advanced to more and more demanding positions through Hutton's various permutations into Shearson Lehman and American Express, and then at J. B. Hanauer. She's on her way to being a CPA. In just about a year back in Baltimore she's bought her own building, doubled the size of her shop, added a workshop -- with an expert tailor from Gambia named M'dou -- that makes most of the clothes she sells, and found "peace of mind."

Her shop is "a cultural extravaganza" of African sculpture, books, jewelry, oils and ointments, and a kaleidoscope of clothing in fabrics that originate in places like Nigeria, Mali and Ghana: kente cloth, mud cloth, and Asoshoki wedding weaves, many richly stitched and embroidered, often in gold and silver thread.

"People ask if it's ethnic," Dee McGhee says. " 'No,' I say, 'It's for sale.' " Twenty-three years ago, Richard Maffezzoli stepped off the academic medicine and research track at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and asked a few doctors who specialized in various medical ailments to join him in a small practice.

His idea was to make it easy for doctors to confer among themselves about their patients, just as doctors at academic centers use each other as resources.

"I wanted an environment to have a free exchange between specialists and primary-care doctors, and I wanted to set up a comprehensive center where patients could come," he says.

His group, Clinical Associates P.A., became one of the first multispecialty doctor companies in the region. Today it has 90 doctors and a staff of 320 and takes care of 140,000 people. More than 1,000 patients come in and out of the main doctors' office on Fairmount Avenue in Towson each day.

About 60,000 Clinical patients belong to health maintenance organizations, which pay Clinical a pre-set monthly fee to care for their patients. That means Clinical is the most experienced doctor-owned group treating managed-care patients in Baltimore.

It was easy, really, since no paperwork is exchanged when a primary-care doctor sends a patient down the hall -- the file follows the patient to the specialist's office.

Each of the doctors has a share in the company, whose overhead is at least 10 percent less than competitors, so the doctors earn more. And unlike most doctors working for managed-care companies, they are paid by their productivity.

"If they don't see patients, they don't get paid. There is no incentive not to see an HMO patient," says Dr. Maffezzoli, 54, an internist who specializes in endocrinology.

"We designed the system that way from the beginning," he says. And because of it, there's no skimping on specialists.

"We use our specialists pretty extensively," he says.

Patricia Meisol

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