Making a Difference
director of Anne Arundel Medical Center's Annapolis Outreach Center,
knows exactly why he goes to work every day. He goes for the man
with the brain tumor who was turned away from another facility
because he couldn't pay up front in cash. He goes for the mother
whose child has a fever but whose health insurance won't kick
in for 18 months. He goes for the people whose jobs offer health
insurance at a cost nowhere near what they can afford. Really,
Mike goes to work every day for anyone who comes in the door of
Annapolis' only free health care clinic. And he goes there for
really feels good to be doing something for the community and
not just something financially," Mike says. "I think everybody
knows someone who has struggled with not being able to afford
health care. For me to spend 10 or 15 minutes with someone and
give them answers is the least I can do. For someone not to be
able to get those answers and have a bad outcome or worse is ridiculous."
His co-workers are so thankful to have him that they nominated
him for the Community Champion award, an annual honor given by
Sandy Spring Bank to nine county residents the company believes
make a difference in Anne Arundel County. More than 60 people
were nominated for the award, and Mike was chosen as one of the
winners. The recipients, who also include a teacher, firefighter,
police officer, student and business person, were each given $2,500
to donate to the non-profit organization of their choice. It's
no surprise to his co-workers that Mike chose the Annapolis Outreach
"Mike is the kind of person who strives to be the best at what
he loves to do and to reach beyond himself to help those in need,"
says Bill West, R.N., director of community health and wellness
for AAMC. "Mike believes in the purpose of the outreach center.
I consider us very fortunate to have found such a caring physician
who is talented as well as community-minded."
Mike was first exposed to the need for free health care in the
most unlikely of places- medical school. On his way home from
school in the inner city of Philadelphia, he would walk by homeless
people and low-income workers. When he heard about a free clinic
for homeless people run some by some of his fellow university
students, he jumped at the chance to contribute, eventually becoming
the medical director of the Hahnemann University Medical School's
Homeless Clinic. The clinic ultimately became the largest student-run
medical system for the homeless in the country, earning the "Point
of Light #809" award presented by former President George Bush.
love of medicine developed many years earlier while growing up
in Silver Spring, Md., the son of a nurse who would come home
with stories about the patients and the hospital. He remembers
one patient in particular who managed to stay alive several weeks
longer than expected in order to see his son graduate from the
"His son walked into his room in his dress whites and said, 'I
did it, Dad,'" Mike remembers. "As soon as his son walked out
the door, the man passed away. The miracle of life and the power
that people have is amazing. It's incredible to be able to work
around such a miraculous thing."
When he was 14 years old, he worked as a dietary aide at Montgomery
General Hospital. "I learned then that every person who walks
through a patient's room door, whether it be the person mopping
the floor or bringing in the food, is important," he says. "How
they interact with that person can make a big difference in that
Mike completed his undergraduate training at the University of
Michigan and his master's in physiology at Georgetown University.
He then attended Hahnemann University Medical School and earned
his residency in internal medicine from Emory University in Atlanta,
becoming board certified in 1997.
After finishing his education, Mike decided he wanted to settle
down in Silver Spring. However, after living in places like Ann
Arbor, Mich., he had acquired a taste for residing near the water
and decided that Annapolis was now a better fit.
"I wanted a more laid-back area with a cosmopolitan feel," says
Mike, who lives in St. Margaret's with his fiancÚ, Christa Bissinger.
"Now I can't imagine living any place else."
Mike maintains a primary practice at Annapolis Internal Medicine
and volunteers his time at Annapolis Outreach Clinic. In addition
to helping care for the more than 2,500 patients who visit each
year, Mike also recruits other doctors and staff members to volunteer
at the clinic and works hard to ensure their experience is a positive
one so that they will want to return often. This means making
sure the volunteers are able to give the greatest amount of medical
attention to the most patients with the fewest obstacles.
"I want them to have the most enjoyable experience possible so
I help make sure the patients are flowing through smoothly, and
their referrals also go smoothly," he says.
AAMC opened the Annapolis Outreach Center more than 10 years ago
with a few doctors visiting a local shelter one night a week with
a bag of medication samples. The demand quickly grew and so did
the clinic. It is now located in the Stanton Community Center
and staffed by 35 physicians, a nurse practitioner, nurses, translators,
and staff members who answer phones, counsel patients, make referrals,
schedule appointments, collect pharmaceutical samples and assist
with walk-in patients-an amazing 140-plus volunteers over all.
At the Annapolis Outreach Clinic, the absence of health insurance
is actually a relief at times. While it means the staff must rely
on donations to keep the clinic alive, it also means the staff
is able to focus its time on doing exactly what they went into
medicine to do-help people. "It's a dramatic difference," Mike
says. "When you get to sit down with a patient with just a pen
and paper and your stethoscope, it's more like you are talking
to a friend and less like gatekeeper and client."
Although the clinic was founded in a homeless shelter, few of
the people who come to the clinic are homeless. Many have jobs
but can't afford or don't have access to health insurance. "If
you are making $500 a week, you can't afford to pay $600 a month
for health insurance," Mike says. "Because of this, people are
being forced to make horrible decisions."
These thoughts keep Mike going in his efforts to recruit more
doctors and more donations for the clinic. "Our doctors, the specialists,
the anesthesiologists, the radiologists, all donate their time,
and the pharmaceutical companies donate their samples, which really
helps cut down costs," he says. "However, we still can't afford
certain things that we really need, like a full-time manager and
a $1,900 EKG machine. To have someone come in with chest pains
and not have an EKG machine is not a good thing. I just try to
remember that it's better than not having this person see anyone
at all because, without the clinic, that's the only alternative