Washington Adventist, Center to Open Clinic

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By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2006

Washington Adventist Hospital and a District-based health center plan to open a primary care clinic for low-income and uninsured families, an unusual partnership geared toward the burgeoning Latino population in Takoma Park, Langley Park and southern Silver Spring.

The Montgomery County collaboration between the hospital and Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care is expected to serve 1,000 people in its first year.

"There is so much need. . . . It could be higher than that," cautioned Washington Adventist President Jere Stocks.

The clinic is part of parent Adventist HealthCare's promise to expand community access with new facilities and services. That commitment has drawn concern as well as praise because of the hospital's proposed move from its Takoma Park home of nearly 100 years. Officials intend to house the primary care program in a new medical building at Arliss Street and Flower Avenue in Long Branch, but some neighbors' objections and lawsuits have delayed construction.

In the interim, the clinic will be in the eastern down-county area. Organizers hope to have an eight-person staff seeing patients in spring.

Mary's Center has particular expertise with the target population. Founded in 1988 to offer care to pregnant women from Central America, the nonprofit provides bilingual health, education and social services to more than 14,000 families at its two District primary care sites and mobile van. According to founder and chief executive Maria Gomez, 80 percent of the center's pregnant women begin prenatal care during their first trimester.

Stocks said the partnership with Mary's Center, nearly two years in discussion, made the most sense for the hospital. "When you think about stretching the safety net, the best approach is to reach out to organizations that are already there," he said.

If Washington Adventist undertook the primary care clinic on its own, Gomez said, "they would have a lot to learn to outreach to this population." At least a fifth of the people who go to Mary's Center in the District come from Montgomery. Most are working poor and uninsured, and they speak more Spanish than English. The new clinic will help them connect with medical specialists and community programs that assist with housing, legal and youth issues, Gomez said.

The hospital and Mary's Center will share start-up and first-year operating costs, estimated at $1.5 million. Long-term funding is being negotiated.

For Washington Adventist, the project helps fulfill a promise it and other county hospitals made to local government officials to better share the burden of the uninsured. Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring opened the first primary care clinic in 2004, with 5,200 patient visits annually by this summer, but officials have been critical of the other institutions' progress with additional facilities. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 adults lack health coverage in the county.

"We are very pleased that it is . . . coming to fruition," Montgomery health officer Ulder Tillman said of the Washington Adventist-Mary's Center clinic. "We think this will be an asset to the community."

Efforts are underway on other fronts, too. A nearly $1 million donation from Adventist HealthCare recently funded a third medical vehicle run by Mobile Medical Care Inc., which serves low-income, uninsured and homeless residents in Montgomery. That doctor's-office-and-laboratory-on-wheels divides its time between communities in the down-county area and those near Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville.

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