By Teri Carnicelli
Every Wednesday morning, they patiently line up along the wall outside the multi-purpose room at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. They are men, women and, sometimes, children, quietly talking with each other or silently clenched in pain or sickness.
What they are waiting for is the volunteer doctors, nurses and staff of Mission of Mercy to arrive, accompanied by a mobile medical RV. Once inside, the people are signed in and then meet with a nurse to explain what medical issue they are dealing with. In most cases, they leave with a diagnosis and a free bottle of medication. Sometimes, their need is too critical and they are referred on to an emergency room.
This was Mission of Mercy’s first mobile clinic site, which was opened more than 15 years ago with community partner Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, located at 1500 W. Maryland Ave. There are now five additional sites that operate weekly.
As a community-based nonprofit, Mission of Mercy provides free primary health care to the uninsured, underinsured and working poor. It receives no state or federal funding; all services are made possible through private financial contributions. There is no qualification process and there is never a charge for services.
Last year alone, the nonprofit provided more than 15,600 free doctor visits and dispensed over 23,000 free medications to patients relying on their services to access health care.
And all of that would not have been possible without the dedicated volunteer doctors, nurses, interpreters and registration attendees. One such volunteer is North Central resident Jeanne Karnell, R.N., who started out in 2000 as a volunteer, then became director of nursing, and has since “retired” but continues to serve once a week as a volunteer.
Being a nurse, she said, is like a calling, part of your identity. “It’s a hard thing to give up,” she admits. “Nursing is inside you. So this is a great way for nurses in their retirement years to still give their very special gifts.”
Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are especially needed as volunteers, particularly in the summer months, as other volunteers may travel or leave town to escape the heat. Even if they can only come once a month, they are welcome, Karnell said.
Dr. Oliver Harper, who also lives in the North Central community, has been a volunteer at the Shepherd of the Valley clinic site for three years. The doctors become just like their primary care physicians, and over time a bond is formed, created in mutual respect and caring, he explained.
Harper, who also volunteers at the Mission of Mercy clinic in Avondale, said that he will keep doing so until he is physically unable to, or, as he put it, “until the wheels come off.”
Other volunteer positions including registration attendee and Spanish-language interpreter. Contact Volunteer Coordinator Ana Berlanga at 602-861-2233 for more information.
You also can contribute financially; this summer the nonprofit will host a campaign to help raise donations to fund its clinic operations. To donate, visit www.amissionofmercy.org/Arizona.