After emigrating from Guatemala to Maryland in 1989, Luis Cabrera took jobs in cleaning and auto mechanics that typically didn’t offer health insurance, so he wasn’t seeing a doctor here. That changed in 2011, when a neighbor told him about Mercy Health Clinic in Gaithersburg, where physicians and nurse practitioners provide free medical care, health education and medication services to low-income and uninsured adults in Montgomery County. Cabrera, now 75, went to Mercy for a checkup and became a regular patient.
According to Executive Director Mark Foraker, the clinic, which opened in 2000, had about 7,200 patient visits last year. Nearly all of Mercy’s patients have at least one job, and 81% are Spanish speakers and recent immigrants.
When the pandemic hit, the clinic’s mix of paid medical staff and volunteers pivoted to telemedicine services, as most volunteers are retired physicians in vulnerable populations for COVID-19. The clinic stayed open for patients with chronic health conditions, or for those, like Cabrera, who continue to pick up prescriptions at the clinic’s pharmacy.
“That’s the only reason why we exist—to get rid of these health disparities and to provide access for people that have no other options for care,” Foraker says. “Closing our doors wasn’t an option.”
Mercy offers more than a dozen subspecialties, including dermatology, cancer screenings and cardiology. Shortly after Cabrera’s first visit, a cardiologist at Mercy told him he needed a pacemaker. Cabrera says the idea of surgery initially terrified him, but the doctor eased his fears, answering all of his questions and explaining what the procedure would entail.
“I certainly was extremely scared,” Cabrera says through an interpreter. “They took very good care of me, and they presented me with all the information about the implantation of the pacemaker and how I needed to make some changes in my daily life after [the implantation].”
Cabrera, who lives in Clarksburg with his niece and her family, was referred to a cardiologist outside of Mercy to do the operation at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. The procedure was covered by funding from a county program and donated care, and the pacemaker was donated by the manufacturer. The surgery went smoothly, and Cabrera experienced very few complications until he needed a replacement in 2019.
Cabrera has developed a rapport with the doctors at Mercy and says going to the clinic has made him pay better attention to his health, including getting a flu shot every season.
Mercy Health Clinic (mercyhealthclinic.org) is a community-based health clinic that provides free medical care, health education and medications to uninsured low-income adult residents of the county. The clinic’s medical services are delivered by volunteer physicians and a small staff of health professionals. In response to COVID-19, Mercy Health Clinic implemented telemedicine programming that has served 859 patients and provided 1,750 health care visits from April through July.
Serves: Montgomery County
What a donation buys:
• $250 covers the cost of a mammogram and follow-up support for five patients.
• $1,000 provides coordinated treatment, nutrition education and lifestyle education support for 100 patients managing diabetes, obesity and/or hypertension.
• $10,000 provides free medications and primary care for 100 patients for a year.
• Ongoing: Volunteer to see patients (physicians licensed in Maryland).
• Ongoing: Provide support for marketing/social media outreach, and other project-based opportunities.