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Mercy clinic works with high-need, low-income patients

'So much of this is listening...helping them realize how important they are'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Willie Davis has never liked going to the doctor.

He had an abscessed tooth when he was a kid. His mother took him to the dentist, where they shot him up with Novocain and pulled the tooth — something that was very painful.

“I sat in that chair for a long time,” he remembers.

That experience has stuck with him. So much so, that he wouldn’t tell his mother when he was hurt or sick.

Once, he cut his hand and kept it to himself so long that it became infected. It was so painful, he kept his hand scrunched in a fist. To this day, he still can’t fully stretch out his fingers.

That fear followed him to adulthood. And when bad luck hit — leaving him homeless — he became even less willing to go to the doctor.

Then a major skin rash — one that covered almost his entire body — brought him to Mercy Medical Center’s emergency department last month. He received treatment and was handed a pamphlet that discussed finding a primary care doctor — something Davis had never had before.

He called the number and got an appointment at MercyCare Health Partners a few days later.

It’s no exaggeration to say that appointment changed his life.

Dr. Monica Meeker and social worker Deanna Glass helped get him medicine for his skin condition, which now is clearing up. They found him a dentist that would accept Medicaid. They got him a winter coat, a pair of shoes, temporary shelter at Willis Dady Emergency Shelter — and they’re working on locating permanent housing.

“Before I came here, I prayed, ‘Lord, please send me an angel,’” Davis said. “And then I met Dr. Meeker. She’s my angel.”

MercyCare Health Partners, at 600 Seventh St. SE, is different from a typical primary care clinic.

It works with low-income patients with complex health care needs — patients on dialysis, dealing with stage 3 or 4 renal failure, cancer diagnoses or serious mental health issues. Some are uninsured, some are homeless and many are on Medicaid, Meeker said.

She sees a patient dealing with cancer, who had a stroke and blood clots; a married couple in which the husband has bad kidneys and high blood pressure while the wife has high blood pressure and mental health issues; and patients with very bad hypertension and renal failure.

Patients must be referred to the clinic, Meeker explained, and the majority of referrals come from Mercy’s Emergency Department, Urgent Care, inpatient units, family medicine providers and social workers.

The clinic, started about three years ago by Dr. Brad Archer, deals with patients unable to find or maintain care elsewhere.

“We’re really looking for patients who don’t have a primary care doctor for whatever reason, those who have serious barriers and health care problems” she said.

Meeker works with a smaller patient population — the clinic only will see about 15 to 20 patients a day — but that’s because she wants to build trust.

She and Glass will have patients come in more frequently than a normal clinic — maybe even several times a week — and spend more one-on-one time with them than doctors are typically able, to teach them about the health care system, answer questions and make them feel more comfortable.

“We help them understand what we do, why we’re here,” she said. “As a community, we need to improve access to these patients.”

Glass works to connect patients with food, showers, housing, financial resources and copays for medications as well as additional mental health services at AbbeHealth.

“So much of this is listening — siting down and helping them realize how important they are,” Meeker said.

Glass, Meeker and the other employees have worked hard to create a safe environment for these patients who are weary of doctors.

The clinic also is more forgiving of patients who miss or are late for appointments. They know patients often are dealing with a lack of transportation or another crisis.

The clinic will works to schedule appointments around city bus routes or help them find rides.

Meeker previously was the chief medical officer at Community Health Centers of Southeastern Iowa — a federally qualified health center that provides primary care services to low-income populations — in Burlington. Since she came to the Mercy clinic, she’s worked on growing it substantially.

In June, it began operating five days a week rather than two half-days. She now is working to incorporate Mercy counseling as well as pharmacy services.

“I’ve prayed for more than two years for this,” said Glass, who has been at the clinic since its inception. “I cried tears of joy to watch this grow from a few half-days to now full-time staff ... There is such a need.”

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