Clinic offers surgery to needy Mission of Mercy now has partnership with Mercy Medical

December 31, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A traveling health clinic that dispenses free care to the needy in Central Maryland can now offer its patients surgery at a Baltimore hospital.

Mission of Mercy, a nonprofit organization based in Emmitsburg, provided free medical and dental care to nearly 10,000 patients at six locations in Maryland and Gettysburg, Pa., this year. A clinic on wheels has its limitations, however.

While the mission has arranged for laboratory and X-ray services at Carroll County General Hospital, Frederick Memorial Hospital and St. Agnes HealthCare in Baltimore, surgery for the uninsured poor seemed an impossible task.

That was before Dr. George Miller became a mission volunteer. A retired gynecologist, Miller was on the staff of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. He helped organize the surgery partnership between the clinic and Mercy.

Four patients have had surgery, and two others are scheduled for procedures next month.

The hospital, which is donating its services, assigns mission patients a primary care physician, who matches them with a surgeon. Nearly all the caregivers are salaried hospital staff.

"There is no out-of-pocket cost for Mission of Mercy," said David Liddle, executive director. "This is a beautiful way to do this."

The mission sees about 15 patients a year who do not qualify for medical assistance to pay for surgery they need, Liddle said.

"We fully realize there are things we cannot do here," said Dr. Michael T. Sullivan, medical director of the mission. "But we hope to be a catalyst to make things happen elsewhere."

Sheree Bell, a 40-year-old Westminster resident, was the first to have surgery through the partnership.

"She wrote us a thank-you for getting her life back on track and making her free of pain and worry," said Liddle.

Bell has been a patient since the clinic opened in Westminster four years ago. She suffered from fibroid tumors in her uterus and needed a hysterectomy. The pain was often so debilitating she could not keep a job.

"I was in such pain," Bell said. "Everybody has to work, and everybody has bills to pay. I have been working since I was 14; it killed me not to be able to work, but I just couldn't."

Bell went from steady employment to what she described as "cheesy odd jobs" with no benefits. The Department of Social Services and three physicians requested medical assistance for her, but those pleas were denied.

"They just kept denying me, even though I filed appeals and had letters from three doctors," she said. "The mission found a doctor who would do the surgery for me for free."

She qualified for state assistance in September, but by then she was well on her way to recovery from a partial hysterectomy to remove her uterus, surgery performed in May by Dr. Arianna Scholes at Mercy Medical Center.

"She was a wonderful doctor, and the entire staff, even down to the cleaning people, treated me wonderfully," said Bell. "I could not have asked for better care. The doctor even told me I could come back and see her when I had a problem, at no cost."

Seven months after her surgery, Bell considers herself "100 percent better." She has a full-time job doing prep work at a Westminster restaurant. She walks to work.

"I can do it all because I am healthy now," she said. "Now that I feel better, I have gotten my life back. I could throw the pain pills away."

She credits the mission and its staff.

"Dr. Sullivan made it all possible," she said. "If not for him, I would still be suffering today."

The mission is also helping 55-year-old David A. Zappardino. self-employed, uninsured musician, Zappardino experienced numbness and burning in his left fingers -- "a real problem for a piano player, but I would have had to live with it. I couldn't afford surgery."

The mission referred him to Dr. Homer House, an orthopedic surgeon, "who knew exactly what was wrong the minute he grabbed my arm," said Zappardino. His surgery is scheduled at Mercy next month.

"This doctor was the one with all the gratitude" for being able to do the surgery, Zappardino said. "He said it was his way of giving back."

Pub Date: 12/31/98

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