The basement of a church is an unlikely place to find a thriving medical clinic, but the KenGar Community Clinic -- a nonprofit health facility supported in large part by the United Way of the National Capital area -- isn't a run-of-the-mill health center.
In fact, there's something unique about the clinic that makes its home in the KenGar First Baptist Church on Hampden Street in Kensington.
Retired concert pianist Kamal H. Ayoub, a jovial, heavyset man sits beside an upright piano taking information from patients waiting to be seen by a doctor.
Nurses Jeanne Weissmeyer and Joyce Peterson, smiles ever-present on their faces, swiftly record patients' temperatures and blood pressures almost in unison.
None of the clinic staff or patients, who sit on folding chairs, appear uncomfortable about the clinic's no-frills atmosphere. Blue vinyl curtains separate the examining cubicles from the waiting area. Examining tables that probably once served as backyard picnic tables are now covered by worn-out lounge chair cushions.
In fact, said clinic coordinator Sylvia Simpson, it is the air of informality that attracts patients, plus the fact that the clinic is one of the few places in Montgomery County that offers free medical care.
The KenGar Community Clinic and four others in Montgomery County comprise Mobil Medical Care, Inc., a nonprofit health organization founded to provide medical services to needy families in the county.
Mobil Medical Care was the outgrowth of a tutoring program for elementary school children begun in the early 1960s by Dr. George J. Cohen, now associate director of outpatient services at Children's Hospital National Medical Center, and Dr. Herman A. Meyerburg, a county psychiatrist.
During the time they were tutoring, the two men noticed that many youngsters seemed to have chronic health problems that remained untreated. A survey confirmed their suspicions, Meyersburg said. An estimated 30,000 county residents had medical problems going without treatment because of an inadequate number of medical facilities.
Cohen and Meyersburg incorporated Mobil Medical Care in 1968, and opened the KenGar Community Clinic in April 1970.
"Everyone said we'd fold in a month," Meyersburg recalled. Despite opposition from the established medical community, which considered the program just a step away from socialized medicine, the clinic thrived. Now, 11 years and five clinics later, Meyersburg says of the skeptics, "It was a bad diagnois on their part."
From July 1978 through June 1979, a total of 2,047 patients were treated at the five clinics.
Clinic clientele has changed over the years, Meyersburg noted. While a large portion of the patient population is made up of indigents who are longtime residents of the community, the clinic treats many foreigners arriving from Indochina and South America who have not made contact with a private physician.
Many clinic patients are "in the gray area," according to Cohen. "They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid (state and federally supported medical assistance) but because of inflation these people can't afford to visit a physician in private practice," Cohen said.
Odesssa Reid, who lives within walking distance of the clinic, would have to turn for medical treatment to a hospital emergency room if no clinic existed. While the county health department does have clinics, they are used primarily to treat veneral disease and tuberculosis, Meyersburg said.
"The clinic is a great help to me," Reid said while waiting for Dr. Cohen to examine her son Stanley, 3. Reid and her other children, Ivan, 7, and Zina, 6, all come to the clinic to get treatment for their medical problems.
The all-volunteer organization -- only members of the office staff get paid -- received $38,034 from the United Way last year and $15,600 from the county. The program also receives private donations and payments from Medicaid or Medicare if the patient participates in either of those programs, Cohen said.
Fourteen pysicians and 16 registered nurses work at Mobil Medical Care. In additions, physicians in private practice in the county take referrals from the clinic either at no cost to the patient or a reduced rate.
One problem facing the clinic, Dr. Cohen said, is that clinic doctors can't be available at all times to their patients. "This does allow for a certain amount of fragmented service," Cohen admitted.
According to clinic coordinator Sylvia Simpson, the patients don't complain about the inconvenience.
"Some times the patients don't remember their doctor's name but they can describe the person to me," said Simpson.
She added that many of the patients who come to clinic rarely sought medical treatment before because they were afraid. "But we make it more friendly here. The doctors and nurses are here because they want to be and that makes all the difference," she said.
The volunteers, Cohen said, are recruited from area medical facilities like the National Institutes of Health. The clinic pays for all medical liability insurance for volunteers.
Mobil Medical Care clinics operate in the evening only. For an appointment at any one of the four clinics, call 434-6677. There are clinics at the Holly Hall Apartments in Silver Spring, Fenwick Apartments in Silver Spring, Lincoln Park Recreation Center in Rockville and at the Kensington site.