Each year, our Children's Hospital fundraising campaign reports on how the hospital helps the community, even when the patient lacks insurance or money. But what happens when the hospital brings its services directly to the people who need them most? To find out, my associate, Samantha Ganey, went along for a ride on the "blue van." Her report:
Dr. Gloria's mobile clinic broke down one morning on traffic-ridden Pennsylvania Avenue SE. But that didn't keep the vehicle, affectionately known as the blue van, from the patients who were counting on it.
Patients who were passing by stopped suddenly. They helped unload equipment and supplies. Then they chauffeured the staff and vitals of a doctor's office to a community center near the treatment site designated for the day.
"It was one of those sweet things that shows it's about the van, not about any individual in the van," said Dr. Gloria WilderBrathwaite, the 38-year-old director of the Children's Mobile Health Project of D.C.
The project is a partnership between its national sponsor, the Children's Health Fund, and Children's Hospital. For 10 years, the program has brought a fully functioning pediatrician's office on wheels to needy Washington neighborhoods.
Five days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., a pediatric van and dental van travel to designated parts of Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8, in the eastern and southern parts of the city. The neighborhoods are chosen because they have high rates of crime, teenage pregnancy and infant mortality.
It's not just the infants that are treated, but the mothers as well, some of whom may still be in elementary school.
A checkup can turn into a discussion about how to be a mother, or how to deal with violence in the home from an angry husband or boyfriend.
"This is about relationships and hopefully nurturing her enough that she feels she doesn't have to take that punch anymore," Dr. Gloria said.
Dr. Gloria's unit sees an average of 20 patients a day. On one recent sunny Tuesday, driver-registrar Derrick Warren parallel-parked the blue van in front of 4319 Third St. SE, in the middle of public housing.
In the waiting room on his mom's lap, a dimpled 1-year-old played with his fingers as sunlight streamed through the van's window. A framed poster of dogs roller-skating and riding bicycles hung on the wall to the left of the mother and her little boy.
It's a full-blown, typical waiting room -- except that no patient in the waiting room has insurance.
"We will take any kid," Dr. Gloria said. "We don't take any payments."
Dr. Gloria grew up on public assistance in New York City. She knew early on that she wanted a career in health care -- especially after she was taken to substandard public clinics as a child.
"I just felt like that shouldn't be that way for kids," Dr. Gloria said, with a grimace. "You know, you shouldn't be made to feel bad when you feel bad. Who cares if your mother is working or not? You're sick."
Dr. Gloria was one of the first to do her residency on a mobile unit the year the program began in New York in 1992. Singer-songwriter Paul Simon and his best friend and pediatrician, Irwin Redlener, were the founders.
Paul told Irwin that he didn't believe New York residents were unable to get health care. To convince Paul, Irwin took him to a homeless shelter. According to Dr. Gloria, "one of the moms at the shelter basically said to Paul, 'Well, if you brought a van load of doctors here, we wouldn't have any problem getting health care.' "
At a concert two weeks later, Paul raised $250,000 for the first mobile medical unit.
The rest of the mobile medical units in the country survive on donations and grants. Donations to Children's Hospital designated for the Children's Mobile Health Project of D.C. will help Dr. Gloria meet her goal of rehabbing a van that's currently in storage.
Dr. Gloria said she desperately needs more vans.
"It was amazing," she said. "We saw 27 patients yesterday -- 17 between 10 a.m. and noon -- all in a 38-foot van. No one waits outside. Nobody complains. People get up and move for another person. We're pretty good at triaging."
As I sat in the waiting room next to the poster of dogs on roller skates, Dr. Gloria's patients hugged her goodbye. They promised to be good and they said they were excited for the Christmas party she is planning to host Dec. 19.
It was like any clinic in any other part of town. "Don't you forget you're on the street right now?" Dr. Gloria asked.
Our goal by Jan. 18: $750,000.
In hand as of Dec. 6: $77,043.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to
Children's Hospital and mail it to
Bob Levey's Campaign for Children's,
P.O. Box 75528, Baltimore, Md. 21275-5528.
BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a
touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S,
or 5437, and follow instructions.
TO CONTRIBUTE ONLINE:
Go to www.washingtonpost.com/
childrenshospital and follow instructions.