Making a Difference

Dr. Mike Freedman, medical 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 free.

"It 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 Clinic.

"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.

His 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 Naval Academy.

"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 person's experience."

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 for him."


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