Doctors and dentists volunteer for the House of Mercy
The demand for medical care is a constant, especially among the poor and underinsured. Several area medical professionals are volunteering their time to ensure that people living in and around the House of Mercy have access to medical attention and specialists.
Lynn McCormick, manager of the House of Mercy, a residential treatment center for chemically dependent women and their children, says medical treatment is one of important steps in helping the House of Mercy clients as they begin their path to a healthy lifestyle and recovery from their addictions.
“To us, the volunteers that we have in health care provide a huge benefit to the patient,” McCormick said. “They just extend services so much further than we can do on our own, and we are very indebted to them for their generosity with their time and expertise.”
The House of Mercy houses a medical clinic that is open Monday through Friday to provide primary-care services for uninsured and underinsured individuals. Specialists such as Dr. William Howard, a full-time pediatrician at Mercy Central Pediatric Clinic, volunteer at the free clinic regularly. For about the last 10 years, Howard has spent one morning a week at the House of Mercy clinic.
“I like taking care of the kids,” Howard said. “I don’t look at whether they have insurance or not; I look at the need.”
Howard has found his services to be greatly needed, but also highly appreciated by the patients he sees.
“We get kids from all over Polk County and some of the surrounding areas,” he said. “A lot of kids have chronic problems, such as with the ears or throat, and it’s a big deal if they can’t get in to medical care. [The parents] are very appreciative to have somebody who cares about the health of their kids.”
Howard said he wishes that society as a whole would take an interest in the well-being of these patients and grant access to health care for everyone, but until then, he plans to continue to come back each week to work with the kids.
“Unfortunately, there’s too much of a need for my services,” Howard said. “My goal would be to put me out of business there (at the free clinic) because that would mean that everybody actually had health insurance.”
Dr. Larry Lindell, an obstetrician and gynecologist who practices at Broadlawns Medical Center, started making regular monthly visits to the House of Mercy clinic in the last couple of years. He practiced privately with Mercy Medical Center for 14 years before going to work at Broadlawns, where he treated patients who had much the same problems as those he now sees at the House of Mercy.
“I got to meet some of the residents of the House of Mercy when I came to Broadlawns, and I realized what a great need they have over there for someone with my training,” Lindell said.
His move to Broadlawns enabled him to serve more people, he says. Private practice was “exceedingly busy” for him, whereas now, the slightly slower pace and greater flexibility with his schedule allow him to volunteer at the free clinic.
“As with Broadlawns, I feel like I’m using my skills in a way to fulfill a bigger need by providing a service that maybe these people couldn’t have had otherwise,” he said.
Another area of medical service that uninsured people have struggled to find access to is dental care. Recognizing that drug abuse greatly damages teeth, dental partners Dr. Kimberly Salow and Dr. Kathy Elsner started a free dental clinic at the House of Mercy about four years ago. They wanted the women to have a clean appearance to go along with their new lifestyle
“If their teeth are horribly infected or missing, their self-esteem will be affected, and they will not have as much success in the workplace,” Salow said.
Salow and Elsner also persuaded many area dentists to volunteer their services to the residents. Now, after a periodontal screening at the House of Mercy, the residents go to one of about 40 area dental offices for free treatment.
McCormick said she is touched by the willingness of the medical community to come together to offer their help. “They show a lot of compassion,” she said. “They’re obviously not doing it for a paycheck, but for the well-being of the patients.”