Mission of Mercy medical clinic on a roll for Frederick's poor Patients: The mobile clinic that has served Westminster and other area towns is now also delivering health care for Frederick County's needy.

December 16, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A blessing on wheels arrived in Frederick yesterday.

Mission of Mercy, a free medical clinic, is making the Frederick County seat the seventh site for its mobile office, which has been serving the needy in Westminster for three years.

The clinic, a 32-foot van converted into two examining rooms and a lab, will stop every other Monday at the Church of the Brethren on Fairview Avenue.

Dr. Michael T. Sullivan, medical director, said Mission of Mercy has been considering a Frederick site for several months because of the needs of the poor there. The clinic already serves the Frederick County towns of Brunswick and Thurmont.

Frederick is becoming increasingly urban and incurring problems associated with larger cities, said the Rev. Paul Mundey, senior pastor of the Frederick Church of the Brethren.

"We must reach out to the working poor, who are often forgotten in terms of social need," Mundey said.

Dr. Gianna Talone-Sullivan, a pharmacologist and wife of the director, founded Mission of Mercy three years ago in Emmitsburg. A devout Roman Catholic, she said that the concept comes from God. She claims to have visions and messages from Mary, revered by Catholics as the mother of God.

"I don't make this happen; it all belongs to God," she said.

"As long as we are open vessels, God's love will shine through us. There are so many lonely, homeless, sick and poor people. Our hope is to restore dignity through healing and love."

The clinic, which is funded by private donations, is on the road four days a week, stopping in Carroll, Frederick and Baltimore counties and Gettysburg, Pa. The van is always staffed by Michael Sullivan and one of a dozen other physician volunteers.

"It is a little cramped, but we can do professional work here," said Dr. Cheryl Ortel, a gynecologist who volunteers once a month, often working at a more hectic pace than at her practice in Leesburg, Va.

"We often see 70 patients a day, but we have a system down. It's like a lot of cooks working together in the same kitchen."

The staff -- 70 volunteer doctors, dentists and nurses -- expects Frederick to become one of the busiest sites, rivaling Westminster, where the clinic routinely sees as many as

80 patients a day. Plans call for adding a dental clinic to Frederick this spring and making the visits weekly by June.

With about 90 percent of its patients uninsured, the mission bridges a gap for people who must choose between medicine and heat for their homes, said Eileen McGrath, a coordinator for Community Agency School Services, a nonprofit group providing support services to Frederick County families.

Welfare reform has put many back to work, but not always in jobs that provide health insurance, she said.

Mundey, who greeted many of the first patients yesterday, praised the simplicity of the mission's operation.

"This mission is not tangled in red tape, technicalities and insurance forms," he said. "There are no 'no's,' only 'yeses' and genuine caring with a strong emphasis on sincerity and dignity."

At 8 a.m. yesterday,an hour before the van arrived, nurses added 10 walk-ins to their list of 20 scheduled appointments. And walk-ins arrived all day.

"We attach no conditions," said Talone-Sullivan. "We are moved by the love in these people's faces."

Some needed interpreters, and many fearfully asked for anonymity. Some may be illegal aliens, said Elizabeth Ruiz, who does Hispanic outreach for the Frederick County Health Department.

The mission recognizes people's fears and does not request legal documentation, said Talone-Sullivan.

"This is the only place for those who cannot afford to pay," Ruiz said. "I have many clients who will use this."

Talone-Sullivan practiced her newly acquired sign language, introducing herself to Joanie Jackson, a hearing-impaired woman who suffers from high blood pressure.

"I have a lot of problems with social services and paying for medicine," Jackson said through an interpreter.

Michael Sullivan recommended changes in Jackson's medications.

"We can try to control things as well or better with medications which are much more affordable," he said.

"He has a heart to help and explain things to me," Jackson said. "I have been hurting for months. This is something the Lord has provided."

Other patients filled out forms and munched on snacks as they waited to see the doctors.

"It is just like coming to a doctor's office, only better because they give you drinks and cookies," said Kathy Staley, a Frederick woman who brought her mother to the clinic.

"They have treated us so kindly," Staley said.

Staley urged her 62-year-old mother, Mary Mercer, to visit the mission for a persistent leg problem.

"She has a hard time walking because of the pain in her leg and hip, but she has no insurance and avoids doctors," said Staley.

Mercer left the mission with a follow-up appointment and a referral for X-rays at Frederick Memorial Hospital, which offers clinic patients free diagnostic services.

"I think they will be able to help me," Mercer said. "It is a wonderful thing they are doing for us."

Most patients' ailments are not life-threatening, but are painful, debilitating conditions that have become aggravated through neglect and lack of attention, said Michael Sullivan. On a typical day, he will treat problems from migraines to bunions.

"We get help and just about any medication to people with no money and no insurance," said Ortel.

"I love taking care of these people. They can look into our eyes and know we love them."

Phil Coghlan spends long hours on the van, doubling as chauffeur and data-entry clerk. But patient gratitude is worth any effort, he said.

"They don't have to say 'thank you,' " Coghlan said. "I can see it in their eyes, when they leave here."

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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