Providing health care to those in need

Dr. Jennifer Pippins (left), a volunteer with MobileMed, speaks with Patience Mbassa at a MobileMed clinic in Silver Spring. Photo by Liz Lynch.


Patience Mbassa, who has high blood pressure and diabetes, comes to the MobileMed clinic in Silver Spring every three months for a checkup. The 65-year-old, who works as a secretary and doesn’t have health insurance, relies on the clinic for free care, medications and supplies to track her blood glucose level.

Mbassa says the medical staff takes time to ask questions and get to know her. When she was dismissive of a lump she’d had in her breast for years, they urged her to take action. Four years ago she had the lump surgically removed and the news was good: no cancer.

“[The people at MobileMed] showed me that they loved me and that they were concerned about me,” says Mbassa, a Silver Spring resident who now gets regular mammograms.

MobileMed, which was founded 50 years ago, is based in Bethesda. Volunteer physicians at the nonprofit’s eight clinics—three fixed sites, three mobile van sites and two homeless shelters, all in Montgomery County—see adult patients for a range of services, from sick visits to physical exams to behavioral health counseling.

Anyone with a demonstrated financial need is treated regardless of their ability to pay, immigration status or health insurance situation. English is not the first language for about half the patients, according to Barry Barth, MobileMed’s director of development and outreach. Many of the 45 full- and part-time staff members are multilingual, and translators are used sometimes.

The clinics rely on doctors such as Jennifer Pippins of Takoma Park, an internal medicine physician who works for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and volunteers twice a month. “It’s not infrequent that I’m the first physician to lay hands on and take care of a patient who hasn’t had any medical care for a good portion of their adult lives,” she says. “Other patients have moved around a lot…there is often a sense of relief to have someone have a fresh look and start from the beginning.”

In the fiscal year which ended on June 30, 2017, MobileMed’s 51 clinical volunteers provided care to about 4,400 patients (the vast majority were Montgomery County residents) through 16,000 medical visits—about a 10 percent increase in encounters over the previous year.

“Being here grounds me and reminds me that while we’ve made many advances as a medical community, those advances are not accessible to everyone,” Pippins says. “As health care providers and involved citizens, part of our job has to be to bridge that gap.”