Sandra Johnson sat in one of the comfortable leatherette chairs in the modern waiting room of the Fort Lincoln Family Medicine Center, 3-week-old Asha asleep in her lap.
The 19-year-old mother had traveled two hours by bus from District Heights, Md., to the facility at 3001 Bladensburg Rd. NE because her daughter "has a cold."
Johnson began going to Providence Hospital's outpatient clinic for her prenatal care, and when the clinic was closed in August, she began going to the Fort Lincoln facility which is run by Providence and has family practice residents from Georgetown University Medical School.
The family medicine enter is not a clinic, medical direcotor Thomas Curtin says. Rather, he says, it is a family medicine practice, run by Providence.
The difference is crucial. The center does not practice herd medicine, Curtin says. Instead, each patient is seen by one physician on an ongoing basis. The patients make appointments ahead, just as they would with a private physician.
And unlike public clinics, each patient is given a card with a doctor's name and telephone number to call during the night or on weekends. "We have coverage seven days a week, 24 hours a day." said Curtin, a past president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and medical director of Providence Hospital.
The center's operations are still in their formative stages, with only one full-time physician on the staff. Between Curtin, Dr. Frank Land of Georgetown and other part-timers there are usually two physicians on duty when the center is open, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The stress at the center is, as its name suggests, on family medicine, a slightly broadened version of what used tod be called general practice.
The family practice residency at Georgetown, like many around the country, trains physicians to be jacks of several medical trades, preparing them to handle pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, minor surgery, and in some cases, simple psychiatric problems.
The theory behind the specialty is that the family practitioner will be able to care for an entire family, and treat each person as a family member, as well as an individual.
The doctors at the center are now seeing between 20 and 30 patients a day, the majority of them elderly residents of one of the two high-rise buildings in the Fort Lincoln new town.
The patient load is beginning to change, however, Curtin said, with an increasing number of young people and outsiders coming to the Fort Lincolin center.
Eventually, Curtin hopes the center will care for 20,000 to 30,000 people a year in the medically underserved northeast area of the city. Officials of the center have spoken to church and community groups, Curtin said, in an effort to make them aware of the newmedical center.
Sandra Johnson, one of the younger patients at the center, said she likes the care she receives there. "The doctor's very nice," said Johnson. But then she wouldn't really know. For 19-year-old Sandra Johnson never went to a doctor until this past August.