Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Mission of Mercy provides medical care with love

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Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
Dental assistant Peggy Richards of Middletown and dentist Dr. Greg Hotton of Frederick work on patient Maria Machado of Frederick during a Mission of Mercy visit Monday at the Frederick Church of the Brethren.
Twenty years ago, Gianna Tallone Sullivan was climbing the professional ladder as a clinical pharmacist in Arizona when she said she experienced a profound encounter with God to heal through love.

In 1993, Tallone Sullivan abandoned her conventional medical career, packed up her belongings and moved to Maryland with her husband, Michael Sullivan, to start Mission of Mercy.

Mission of Mercy is a volunteer, nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing free medical, dental and prenatal care and prescriptions to uninsured working adults in Frederick, Thurmont, Brunswick and Mount Airy twice per month.

Mission of Mercy now has 13 centers in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas and Arizona and more than 500 volunteers. Last year, the organization treated more than 200,000 patients nationwide.

On Monday, volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists and staff set up shop in the large community room inside the Frederick Church of the Brethren and in a mobile van parked outside the church door.

Though Mission of Mercy is a faith-centered organization, it does not proselytize, Tallone Sullivan said. Restoring people’s dignity is the goal and love is the product, she said.

‘‘People are hungry and thirsty for love and acceptance,” Tallone Sullivan said.

On Mission of Mercy’s assigned days in Frederick, which are always at the Church of the Brethren, volunteers begin setting up the church’s basement before 9 a.m. to resemble a professional medical facility.

Using moveable walls, dentistry, triage and prenatal healthcare workers carve out corners of the room. Rows of metal folding chairs make up the waiting area on one side of the room, while volunteer staff thumbs through patients’ records on long tables in the center of the basement. The van features three examining rooms for additional privacy and a pharmacy stocked with free, generic prescription drugs.

Linda Ryan, executive director of Mission of Mercy, said that many people wait outside the church doors three hours before the mobile clinic opens.

Though walk-ins are welcome, Mission of Mercy requires people to make appointments through the Religious Coalition of Frederick County for every medical service except dentistry.

Nearly 70 percent of patients are treated for chronic health problems, Ryan said, including high blood pressure, back problems, and neurological disorders. The clinic also provides free lab work and X-rays.

Jennifer Taylor, a physician’s assistant at Mission of Mercy, said the mobile clinic is just like any adult internal medicine practice that treats chronic medical problems. However, there are limitations to the types of care Mission of Mercy can give, Taylor said. Ophthalmology, orthopedics and surgeries are not possible at the clinic.

Taylor, who is employed by Mission of Mercy, said when she first saw the clinic’s operation in Frederick nearly three years ago and the group of patients waiting, ‘‘my heart went out to them and I knew this was the best place to be,” she said.

The patients she sees are hardworking, Taylor said, and come from diverse backgrounds.

Teresa Guardado of Frederick knows what it is like to work and have no health insurance. ‘‘It causes lots of problems,” she said, in Spanish. Michael Dean, a volunteer interpreter for Mission of Mercy, translated for Guardado.

The young woman from El Salvador said she came to Mission of Mercy for the first time on Monday for prenatal care.

Ryan noted that Mission of Mercy would soon begin referring expectant mothers to Frederick Memorial Hospital’s newly opened clinic to decrease its waiting list for prenatal care.

Tallone Sullivan described the uninsured working poor, as ‘‘the ordinary people who no longer have a voice” or can’t afford comprehensive health care from their employers.

‘‘It can happen to any person,” she said. ‘‘No one is exempt from this.”

Learn more

In Frederick, Mission ofMercy:

Where Mission of Mercy serves in Maryland⁄Pennsylvania:

Visit for Mission of Mercy’s schedule and locations in Frederick County.