Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mary’s Center offers doctors who speak patient’s language

New health facility in Long Branch helps put immigrants, low-income families at ease

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Five years ago, Luis Carrera, a Washington, D.C., resident originally from Guatemala, needed emergency medical care. As a member of an electricians union, Carrera had medical insurance, but because he sometimes struggled with his English, he was nervous about seeing a doctor.

Instead, he went to Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care, a federally funded health center in the District that offers services in both English and Spanish. That positive experience stayed with Carrera, who has since become the vice chairman of the board of directors of the nonprofit center, which opened its first location in Maryland on Thursday in the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring.

‘‘There’s a lot of Spanish-speaking people around here, but we are diversifying more because there are people from all over the world who need services,” said Carrera, 54.

Carrera said immigrants are put at ease when a physician can speak their language.

‘‘When you can talk to a doctor in your own language, you can tell them [what’s wrong] and you feel very comfortable,” he said.

A welcome sign in the waiting room at 8709 Flower Ave. is written in eight languages, and the center’s team of doctors, nurses and staff members speak more than 20.

Founded in partnership with Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, the center will cater primarily to the uninsured, immigrant and low-income populations in nearby Takoma Park, Langley Park and Silver Spring.

‘‘It will be an honor to serve families in their own community,” Maria Gomez, the president and CEO of Mary’s Center, said at the ceremony.

With six exam rooms, counseling offices and a triage lab, the 3,600-square-foot facility will offer services ranging from prenatal and pediatric care to general emergency treatment, mental health and family social services.

In its first week, the center has already registered almost 70 patients for appointments, said Washington Adventist Hospital spokeswoman Lydia Parris. Clients will receive care regardless of their ability to pay, she added.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said at the ceremony Thursday that health care in eastern Montgomery County is ‘‘truly in a crisis stage today” and could be greatly enhanced by facilities like Mary’s Center.

‘‘Our county is changing and we have challenges,” Leggett (D) said. ‘‘... We have to provide services to some of the most vulnerable people in our midst.”

Ana Maria Alvarez, 20, an immigrant from Guatemala who has worked with a Mary’s Center program to educate teenagers about HIV and AIDS, said she hopes others will be able to benefit from the new Mary’s Center the way she has.

After coming to the United States at age 15, Alvarez said she was struggling in school and afraid to speak English until she enrolled in programs to help her at the District’s Mary’s Center.

‘‘I just came from my country, I didn’t know English, and I didn’t know about AIDS and HIV,” she said. ‘‘Now I want to be a nurse.”