Van puts free health clinic on a new roll

Mission of Mercy vehicle offers much-needed space

January 19, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Mission of Mercy, a free mobile health clinic, is traveling on new wheels and offering its indigent patients more privacy, space and efficiency from a customized new van.

The generosity of a woman who lived much of her life in Baltimore and never knew of the mission provided $130,000 to purchase a Winnebago Adventurer and outfit it as a clinic with examination rooms, a pharmacy and a reception area. There is even an office area for the volunteer driver, who doubles as administrative aide.

"It is beautiful, roomy and private," said Carol Redman of Westminster, a patient since 2001. "My own home doesn't look so good."

The Charlotte M. English Private Foundation, established at the behest of the late arts patron and supporter of programs for the needy, donated the money for the vehicle.

"The funding for this just literally materialized," said David Liddle, executive director of Mission of Mercy. "Our mission matched the mission of the foundation, and the next thing we knew they offered to purchase the van and we were laying out the specs for a custom design."

English, who died in 2003, provided in her will funds to assist women and children, said Matthew B. Hitt, foundation president.

"We matched up perfectly with Mission of Mercy," Hitt said. "They bring medical care to the needy, and they were in need of a van. We were glad we were able to do something for them."

Mission of Mercy recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of providing the uninsured and working poor with free health care and prescriptions from a recreation vehicle refitted as a clinic.

Its 1999 Winnebago Adventurer, the second vehicle in its decade of operation, was rapidly wearing out and had several drawbacks. When the van became a health clinic, the bathroom area served as a cramped pharmacy, with files stored in the shower. The mission converted the dining area into a tight reception room, and the passenger seat was the only space for a laptop computer.

In designing the new clinic, Dr. Michael Sullivan, the mission's medical director, eliminated the full bath, opting for only a toilet and sink. Instead of a dining room and kitchen, this van boasts three private examining rooms, a spacious pharmacy and a reception area.

"We knew what we wanted, and we were able to customize," Sullivan said last week during the clinic's weekly Wednesday visit to Westminster, where the staff would see as many as 80 patients.

Three doctors can work simultaneously and have room to walk by patients in a wide aisle.

While Sullivan treated a patient for high blood pressure last week, a pharmacist prepared medications and a certified physician's assistant tended to a patient with a severe ear infection.

"The space helps them be more organized," said Anne Wandel of Sykesville, who scheduled a follow-up appointment at the clinic and left with an antibiotic for her ear problems.

The sleek gray-and-cream-colored Winnebago, with the Mission of Mercy logo and a white cross, is 38 feet long with a slider attachment that opens for additional space.

The Winnebago will carry the clinic to nine sites in western Maryland, Reisterstown and southern Pennsylvania and offer care to about 11,000 patients this year, mission officials said.

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