Husband-wife team on mission of mercy

March 25, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare

Mercy travels on the wheels of a 32-foot Pace Arrow van to small towns in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Three days a week, Mission of Mercy brings health care to the homeless, the uninsured and the unemployed. The mobile medical clinic dispenses free medical and dental care, prescriptions and ample doses of compassion.

The northwest Carroll County town of Taneytown just became the sixth site in an itinerary that includes Westminster, Brunswick, Thurmont, Reisterstown and Gettysburg, Pa. Since the clinic opened 19 months ago, nearly 1,800 patients have made 4,100 visits.

Dr. Gianna Talone-Sullivan, 38, a pharmacologist, founded the mission to administer "healing through love." She said the concept came to her in a message from the Virgin Mary.

Dr. Talone-Sullivan said that she moved to Emmitsburg three years ago, at the Virgin Mary's request, to "do good works."

Dr. Talone-Sullivan's presence at a weekly prayer service at St. Joseph Catholic Church in the small Frederick County town has drawn thousands. After the Thursday night service, hundreds, many of them ill, line the aisles seeking a blessing. Dr. Talone-Sullivan said she is not a healer, but hopes her prayers "offer a greater healing" of the spirit.

The mission's financial future, dependent on private donations and foundation grants, remains in God's hands, she said.

Dr. Talone-Sullivan's husband, Dr. Michael Sullivan, is the mission's medical director and doctor-in-residence when the van is on the road. About 90 percent of the mission's patients have no health insurance.

"Many suffer from neglect and continue to live with relatively nonserious problems that incapacitate them," he said. "These problems won't be resolved unless there is more compassion on everybody's part."

About 70 volunteers rotate among the clinic's sites. Phil Coghlan, a retired FBI agent, drives the van and keeps computer records of patients. Marcy Callaghan, one of 32 registered-nurse volunteers, gives the mission a day of her time each month.

"Hospital nursing is about making money," she said. "Here, I feel like I am truly helping."

At the Human Services Building in Westminster on Wednesdays, the mission also runs a dental clinic.

"By the time they come to us, most cases are in gross condition to the point where we have to extract," said Dr. Orlando Sanidad, a Hampstead dentist.

Rosanna Thullen, a single mother of three, said, "Most dentists won't take you without a payment up front."

Dental work must be scheduled months in advance. With more volunteers, dental clinics would be possible at other sites, Dr. Sullivan said.

Westminster has become the clinic's busiest site. The staff frequently sees 90 patients a day. Dr. Talone-Sullivan said she sometimes feels like a sergeant marching among rows of people waiting in the On a typical day, Dr. Talone-Sullivan carries a walkie-talkie to contact the van, parked outside. She takes names, assigns times and asks for patience. In three hours, the clinic sees 30 patients and has at least 30 waiting.

"With so many patients, you have to have order," she said.

Walk-ins must wait to be squeezed into a full schedule.

John Mountain squinted in pain from a migraine headache and gave a soft "ta-dah," when Dr. Talone-Sullivan called his name.

"What would we do without this mission except suffer?" said Mr. Mountain, 43. "It is truly a godsend. They give you all the time you need and their full attention."

A lab coat hid Dr. Talone-Sullivan's pregnancy through the fall TTC and early winter. The Taneytown mission, held at St. Joseph Catholic Church every other Thursday, opened Feb. 1 without her. She is at home caring for her infant daughter and plans to return soon. On request, Dr. Sullivan, produces a picture of the beaming mother and sleeping baby.

Bi-monthly clinic stops in Taneytown may ease crowding in Westminster.

"We knew from the beginning there was a significant need in Taneytown, maybe the poorest section of Carroll County, where many are without transportation," the doctor said.

Among the 14 patients who came to the opening of the Taneytown mission was Rick Pownall, an unemployed father of three. He knew about the Westminster site, but could not make the 13-mile trip there on a bicycle, his only transportation. For six months, severe psoriasis has kept him from working.

"I'm in anguish from the itching and burning," said Mr. Pownall, 32.

He left the mission with several free prescriptions and relief.

"I see a lot of people suffering from relatively nonserious problems with nowhere to go," Dr. Sullivan said. "They become incapacitated from problems that are completely treatable."

Betty D. Crowe, 54, another Taneytown patient, hobbled toward a nurse. "My legs hurt, and I know there's something wrong," she said. "But, I'm telling you right now I can't afford any treatment."

"Then, you are in the right place," said Ms. Callaghan, who enfolded her new patient in a hug.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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