MedStar Health’s 2008 Community Benefit Report highlighted the longstanding partnership between MedStar’s Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore and the Shepherd’s Clinic, where AI’s David Finney volunteers and is president of the board.  The clinic has also served as a member of CRISP working group, representing the underserved and the uninsured.  The following is from the MedStar report:

Shepherd’s Clinic, a healthcare clinic for Baltimore residents without insurance, had been open for about two whole days in the early summer of 1991 when a phone call came in from the wife of Dr. William H.M. Finney [David’s grandfather], who had recently retired as head of neurosurgery at Union Memorial Hospital.  “June Finney called and said Bill was driving her crazy at home,” recalls Jack VandenHengel, one of the clinic’s founders.  “She asked, ‘Do you have anything for him to do?'”

Well, yes, came the answer, and thus Dr. Finney became Shepherd’s Clinic’s first medical director.  One of his first actions was to persuade other doctors at Union Memorial to volunteer.  “And that,” says Mr. VandenHengel, “is how it all started.”

“It” is Union Memorial’s longstanding partnership with Shepherd’s Clinic.  The connection between the two actually started a couple of years earlier, when a physician’s assistant at the hospital, frustrated with the number of uninsured, non-emergency patients flooding the emergency room, approached Mr. VandenHengel, then pastor of Baltimore’s Seventh Baptist Church and asked if there was a way the church could help.  That meeting kicked in motion plans for a primary care clinic, which eventually opened in a basemenet rowhouse owned by the church.  Shepherd’s Clinic has moved twice since, and today from its Kirk Avenue location a team of 250 volunteers handles some 4,000 patient visits each year.

The clinic meets a vital need, providing primary health care to working adults and the unemployed who are uninsured.  Patients with jobs are asked to pay an hour’s wage per visit; those without jobs pay $9.  Union Memorial’s doctors, retired doctors, nurses and therapists are mainstays of the volunteer workforce, and the hospitals third-year medical residents each spend from two to four weeks working at the clinic.  Union Memorial also provides a paid medical director and a supervisor.

One thing that makes Shepherd’s Clinic stand out from other healthcare clinics is that through its partnership with Union Memorial, it can provide patients with a continuum of care.  Those whose care needs escalate beyond what the clinic can provide are referred to the hospital, which is about a mile away, and delivers roughly half a million dollars worth of free care every year.  “That’s what makes Union Memorial such an incredible partner,” says Mr. VandenHengel.

For Union Memorial, the investment of time and dollars is well worth it.  The partnerships eases the strain on the hospital emergency room.  It provides an ideal training ground for medical residents.  And it sends a clear message of commitment to the neighborhood.  “This is a community hospital,” says Robert Ferguson, M.D., chief of medicine at Union Memorial and a Shepherd’s Clinic board member.  “We have a real interest in supporting our local community.”