Free mobile health clinic is on a roll in Carroll

Mission of Mercy sets up operation in church parking lot

October 22, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A gray-and-tan Winnebago Adventurer eased down Mount Airy's Main Street yesterday morning, stopped on a church lot and opened its doors to a crowd of the area's neediest people. Mission of Mercy, a free medical clinic on wheels, had arrived.

The converted recreational vehicle houses three examining rooms, a nurses' station, a cabinet filled with about 200 medications and a comfortable waiting area. It has enough space for two physicians, a nurse practitioner, and the driver who doubles as a computer operator - "all the everyday things you would find in a family practice," Dr. Michael Sullivan, medical director, said jokingly.

Mission of Mercy has offered mobile medicine to the poor in Maryland and Pennsylvania since 1994. Three years ago, its original vehicle gave out and the mission purchased this 37 1/2 - foot-long RV with an extra room that emerges from its side.

It might get a little cramped, but Dr. Joe Ferguson, the newest staff physician, said, "This space is heaven compared to an old mail truck I once outfitted for a medical mission in Central America."

Within the first hour yesterday, Shannon Neal, 32, a mother of two, received pain relief for arthritis. William White, 59, had his monthly diabetes checkup and Gale Johnson, 48, found a gracious doctor willing to treat an uninsured and indigent patient.

Mount Airy and Harrisburg, Pa., are the sites of the two newest of nine clinics that dispense the mission's signature "healing through love." Calvary United Methodist Church on Main Street offered the mission a Mount Airy location. The clinic will be open there every other Monday.

`We expect to be busy'

"We have a fair number of rural families who are not close to any health department that may provide similar services," Susan Martin, parish nurse. "There is a real need here and we expect to be busy."

Carol Von Gosen, clerical volunteer, said, "This is an affluent community, but we will take everybody who needs help."

For the Rev. Dennis Yocum, Calvary's pastor, the faith-based mission was "an extension of our own ministry to reach out and care for those around us."

"We have in excess of 30,000 people within five miles of our building," Yocum said. "I know there is a need out there."

In addition to newcomers, many Mount Airy patients will be transfers from Mission of Mercy sites that have become crowded.

The busiest clinic, in Westminster, served nearly 2,500 in the past year, and the Frederick location saw almost 1,600. The charity provided care for close to 10,000 patients last year.

"We are on the road five days a week and averaging about 70 people a day wherever we are," Sullivan said. "We have had days with 100, but that's not a comfort level. There have been times when we have had to cut off walk-ins."

Its location between Frederick and Westminster made Mount Airy an ideal spot, said Sullivan.

"Westminster is overloaded with a fair number of patients coming from this direction," he said.

Neal usually visits the Thurmont clinic, but Mount Airy is closer to her Woodsboro home. Ferguson gave her medicine, soft braces for her arms, nutritional advice, a referral for a free blood test, a follow-up appointment and words of encouragement.

"They took care of everything they could," Neal said. "They gave me something to help with the pain. I got all these good things for free. These are hard times and I can't afford this kind of care."

Johnson has lupus, asthma, chronic back pain and no insurance. A friend drove her from Laurel for the clinic opening. In the waiting room, she chatted with Neal.

"They will help you here," Neal promised. "They are wonderful."

White did not know how much longer he could manage the 18-mile drive to the Westminster clinic where he was being treated for debilitating diabetes.

`Really good people'

"These are really good people and I don't know what I would do without them," White said.

The new clinic is 10 minutes from Shirley Myers' home in Winfield. The 67-year-old grandmother and retiree has multiple health problems.

"The mission is helping me with all the meds I have to take," Myers said. "Without their help, I could not afford them all."

Joanne Makowski, 48, of Mount Airy said kindness was the most impressive element of her visit for high blood pressure and severe back pain.

"They took their time with me and they really helped," she said.

Mission of Mercy will be at the church, 403 S. Main St., from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 4 and alternating Mondays. Information: 301-829-0358, Ext. 202.

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