Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

As health clinic settles in, transportation question looms

New bus stop could ease the issue

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Patients check in to the Mercy Health Clinic at 7-1 Metropolitan Court in Gaithersburg.
After two months in a new Gaithersburg location, the Mercy Health Clinic is examining whether the move from Germantown has hindered patients’ ability to reach the facility.

The clinic, a part-time, nonprofit staffed by volunteers, moved in early June from the Upcounty Regional Services Center in Germantown to a building with roughly double the space near the Motor Vehicle Administration on Metropolitan Grove Road.

Transportation woes were a concern from the outset. The nearest bus stop to the building at 7-1 Metropolitan Court was three-tenths of a mile away.

A Route 61 bus stop was posted outside the clinic in early July, but it runs on a limited schedule with most stops during the clinic’s off-hours, said David Wallace, the clinic’s executive director.

‘‘We thought when we moved in here this is a wonderful facility, but one drawback is it is too far from the main road,” he said.

Volunteer doctors see patients on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while specialty services such as diabetes and dermatology are handled on Wednesdays.

Several patients waiting in the clinic’s lobby Thursday afternoon said they had no difficulty getting to the new location.

Cecilia Bazan of Damascus said she drove her grandparents, Jose and Cecilia Bermudez, also of Damascus, to the clinic.

The clinic’s move made it easier for Gaithersburg’s large Hispanic population to access its services, she said. Sixty-two percent of the clinic’s patients are Hispanic and 72 percent are women, according to a July 2007 report released by the clinic.

The impact of the move from the Germantown location, where there was regular bus service, is still unclear, Wallace said.

Anecdotally, things remain ‘‘busy, busy, busy,” but data on patient visits was not available, Wallace said.

Clinic staff is working with Ride On officials to prepare a pamphlet explaining the bus routes.

Wallace said the clinic plans to survey patients to determine how many utilize public transportation, he said.

The move to Gaithersburg has above all been positive in advancing the clinic’s mission, Wallace said, but ‘‘what transportation will do is another question.”