Mercy Care: Health Care for All

Have you ever woken up with one of those annoying colds that is bad enough to keep you hyper-aware of your struggling immune system, but not enough for you to call in sick? You keep telling yourself, “Just make it to lunch. Then you can pick up some Mucinex and hopefully still make it to Thursday’s happy hour.”

When you go to the pharmacy, do you notice how much the medicine costs? I sure don’t most of the time. But as it turns out, a Mucinex packet can go for anywhere between $10.99 and $35. That’s a lot, especially for someone who makes less than $11,000 a year. And let’s not even get started on healthcare coverage…

With rising private healthcare and drug prices and worsening income inequality, it’s hard to imagine what life in the lower income brackets feels like when you can’t even properly fight a common cold. Fortunately, there are amazing groups and organizations that are making like Obama and taking matters into their own hands.

Mercy Care is a perfect example. This Atlanta-based nonprofit believes that everyone deserves exceptional medical care regardless of insurance or income status. 

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Healthcare access and coverage inequities persist in Georgia where currently only children, women who are pregnant, low-income elderly and the disabled qualify for Medicaid assistance. In 2014, the Georgia County Guide reported that over 20% of individuals under age 65 in the counties served by Mercy Care were uninsured. Without insurance, people do not seek medical attention or receive routine primary care, leading to more expensive care and allowing chronic conditions to grow into serious issues. Thus, a growing number of individuals rely on Mercy Care to meet their healthcare needs.

What’s the story?

Mercy Care’s story goes all the way back to the 30’s — the 1830’s that is. Around that time, the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic women’s congregation, was founded on the values of community, service, and social justice. In 1880 they opened the first hospital in metro Atlanta, which was later named St. Joseph’s. A century later, in a valiant effort to keep up with the Atlanta community’s needs, the hospital’s members and volunteers took to the streets to provide health services to those who were denied  access to it — the homeless and poor. In 1985 Mercy Care Services was incorporated as a nonprofit.

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Mercy Care now consists of a network of 15 clinics across Atlanta, including 10 fixed clinic sites and 5 mobile locations. Patients pay for services on a sliding scale, according to their income. Most patients do not pay at all. Mercy Care focuses on primary and preventive care, but also offers services including: behavioral health, dental, vision, HIV prevention & care, case management, community health education, outreach and street medicine.

What’s the impact?

According to a 2015 needs assessment, Mercy Care clients rank primary care as the top unmet need of Atlanta’s homeless and uninsured and note lack of income as the number one barrier to seeking medical care. Mercy Care delivers a solution to these problems, by providing a medical home with integrated behavioral health for all Atlantans, regardless of income or insurance status.

In 2015, Mercy Care’s clinics provided medical care to over 11,000 patients. Of those, 62% were experiencing homelessness, 88% were uninsured, and 84% lived at or below the poverty line. Less than 9% of Mercy Care’s budget comes from patient revenue. For the remainder, Mercy Care relies on fundraising. For many of these patients, this will be the first time they have had access to care.

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How to get involved

Mercy Care began more than 30 years ago as a volunteer service and it still heavily relies on the work of caring volunteers to carry out its mission. If you live in Atlanta, consider donating your time to this wonderful organization. You can also make a monetary donation here.

Getting hitched? Create a charitable wedding registry that supports Mercy Care’s work in Georgia.

 

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