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Private Medical Group Brings Health Care to Poor, Uninsured

To most Americans, the governments in their towns and regional areas called counties are the governments they interact with the most. And alongside these local governments are groups of citizens who work on their own to make life better. In this segment of a multi-part series, VOA's Jeffrey Young focuses on a private-sector initiative in Montgomery County, Maryland meant to ensure health care for all.

When you are sick or injured, you need a doctor. If you're in Montgomery County, Maryland and can't fully pay for treatment, there is MobileMed.

Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington, D.C., has plenty of doctors and health facilities. But, as is common across the United States, it takes cash or health insurance to get medical care. That is why, 40 years ago, several Montgomery County doctors formed a non-governmental, non-profit organization called Mobile Medical Care -- MobileMed for short.

MobileMed Executive Director Bob Spector says a lot of people need help. "Mobile Med serves more than 5,000 of the most vulnerable residents in Montgomery County, that for a variety of reasons have no access to health care. They have no insurance. They are out of work. They are recent immigrants."

MobileMed serves the community through 19 clinics and three mobile vans that are doctors' offices on wheels. The vans and other facilities were made possible because of partnerships MobileMed has with several area hospitals, major charities, private sector sponsors and the government of Montgomery County. Patients only pay a small sum for their visits and treatment.

The clinics and vans are staffed by nearly 30 medical personnel, including nurse practitioner Barbara Beuchert. She says she and her colleagues see just about every illness.

"They come [to MobileMed] for chest pain, they come for women's health, they come for cough, back pain, [and] headaches. And many times, we find much more serious medical problems with them," she adds.

Kodjovi Messie is a doctor who emigrated from the West African nation of Togo. He says there are a number of people who come to MobileMed with serious illnesses that have often gone undiagnosed and treated.

"When they [patients] don't have medical insurance, they don't see doctors as often as they should. And when they come here, we find out that a lot of them have had diabetes and high blood pressure and didn't even know [it]," says the doctor.

In order to best communicate with Montgomery County's sizeable immigrant population, MobileMed employs many staffers who also come from those parts of the world. Haney Shamil says she is a welcome face. "When Ethiopian patients come here, to see somebody who speaks their language, and see somebody who knows their culture, it makes them feel very comfortable."

MobileMed's staff speaks at least eight languages, and there are clinics that focus on immigrants from China, Korea, Iran, Hispanic countries, the Horn of Africa, and French West Africa and Haiti.

Having such language and cultural abilities enables medical personnel to get more detailed information about illnesses and problems in order to best treat them.

MobileMed's staff could earn far higher salaries in private clinics. But they say this is not a matter of money. It's a matter of feeling responsible for the well-being of others.