Unblock Me

I’m sitting here trying to think up something new to write for this month’s Mercy Health Clinic blog, and I’m just blocked. There are plenty of “health observances” this month – stroke, mental health, skin cancer, and many others that I could write about, but I’m just not feeling it. In fact, I’m so blocked that I’m finding myself drifting to thoughts of… fundraising. Now, writers will do almost anything to avoid writing, but usually mundane stuff like alphabetizing their DVD collection or wrapping pennies or building bookshelves (read The World According to Garp if you don’t get that last one). You know the universe must be taking a dire turn when the prospect of fundraising is more appealing than writing.

But it’s not just any fundraising, you see. As chair of the Mercy Health Clinic’s board development committee, I’m supposed to help figure out some strategies to assist our valiant development staff raise the funds needed to operate the Clinic. This isn’t someone’s trip to music camp or a new dating app we’re crowdfunding. It’s about operating a medical clinic for very poor people who can’t get health insurance — about 1600 patients annually, for about 6,000 visits to deal with everything from common colds to heart disease and diabetes.

For example, Lela*, 54, came to the US 28 years ago from Ethiopia and raised three children here. Recently she went to a local hospital complaining of weight loss, severe thirst, and frequent urination. Lela was diagnosed with high blood sugar and Type II diabetes. Because she was uninsured and her income while working was only $16,000 a year, she qualified for treatment at Mercy Health Clinic. While at the Clinic, Lela met with a nutritionist and a retina specialist; she also received insulin to treat her diabetes. Lela received these services and insulin at no charge.

That’s right. Mercy Health Clinic is a free clinic – for patients. But that doesn’t mean it’s outright free, period. Stuff still costs money. Mercy gets many things donated by wonderful partners: lab tests, radiology services, surgical procedures, pharmaceuticals, and of course direct medical care itself from an impressive cadre of volunteer doctors and nurses. The value of these in-kind contributions adds up to about $1.5M annually, and that’s amazing. We couldn’t help people like Lela without that support.

But rent, equipment, insurance (including malpractice insurance for medical volunteers), medical and pharmacy supplies, utilities, a small paid staff, and many other routine operational needs are not covered by in-kind contributions. These expenses must be met out of Clinic’s cash revenues, which include patient reimbursements from Montgomery County, foundation and government grants, and donations from individuals, workplace campaigns, and civic and faith groups.

The Mercy Health Clinic is a true community-based clinic, serving people who live and work in our own county. Honestly, if we were any more grassroots, we’d need mowing twice a month. As such, though, we don’t have the fundraising apparatus available to Big Disease. (I just made up that term but you know who I mean.) Instead, we on the board and the development staff ask generous people to donate money, either directly by sending a check or donating on the website, or by supporting our annual Gala and Golf Classic. Watch for additional opportunities this year to learn about Mercy Health Clinic and how you can help. We hope you’ll give because you feel as we do, that everyone deserves high-quality medical care without regard to their ability to pay — and it’s our responsibility as decent humans to do what we can to make that happen.

Well, look at that. I figured out what to write about after all.

Not her real name.

—- Pam Saussy, Board Member


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