Mercy Primary Care Center Cares for Detroit’s Most Vulnerable During Pandemic

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Nurses at Mercy Primary Care Center wear PPE when caring for potential COVID-19 patients.

DETROIT – Much of the focus in the battle against COVID-19 has been on hospitals, with news programs broadcasting images of ventilators and hospital buildings around the clock. However, other health care institutions are playing a role in this fight. Mercy Primary Care Center (MPCC), a Trinity Health safety net ministry, is located in eastern Detroit. MPCC provides care for the city’s poor and most vulnerable, and remains one of the only free clinics still open in the area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MPCC’s Services and Patient Population

MPCC first opened its doors in 2000, when Trinity Health and the Sisters of Mercy decided to convert a closed hospital into a ministry for vulnerable patients in Detroit. According to MPCC’s Director of Medical Services of the Detroit Market, Tawana Nettles-Robinson, the center provides health care services, labs, prescription assistance, educational and exercise classes, behavioral health services, care coordination, and transportation. In addition, MPCC sponsors the “Special Personal Assistants” program, which provides resources to individuals experiencing homelessness to help get them back on track.

For its first fifteen years, the center operated solely as a free clinic, providing qualifying patients with comprehensive care at no cost. After the Affordable Care Act was passed, MPCC also began accepting Medicaid plans and some commercial plans. However, 25 to 30 percent of patients are still uninsured, and MPCC treats them at no charge. To care for these patients, the center relies on a number of funding sources, including a grant from Trinity Health, Medicaid reimbursements, and outside donations.

MPCC’s Efforts Against COVID-19

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Susan, a Mercy Primary Care Center colleague, strikes a pose in PPE.

Since the advent of COVID-19, operations at MPCC have changed significantly. The center offers COVID-19 screening and testing for patients, who are now coming in more ill than usual. MPCC’s patient population tends to have comorbidities, which raises their risk of COVID-19 complications. Many new patients have also enrolled with the center so that they can be screened.

To protect patients and colleagues, MPCC has changed its workflows by cordoning off certain areas and providing cloth masks to all patients, with surgical masks given to those with known symptoms. In addition, potential COVID-19 patients are asked to call the front desk to register, or to register in the exam room. MPCC is now also offering telehealth visits to help limit flow into the office.

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Martin, another MPCC colleague, wears a face shield donated by Operation Face Shield – Downriver.

MPCC faces many of the same challenges as our hospitals in the fight against COVID-19. According to Nettles-Robinson, the center is working hard to ensure there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits, but these can be hard to obtain. Like our hospital colleagues, the staff has also faced challenges, with some facing illness and all handling the realities of life in a pandemic. Despite these issues, the team continues to work hard to care for their patients.

MPCC’s work is vital to the community, especially now, when many other free clinics in the area have closed due to COVID-19. Nettles-Robinson shared, “The staff remains dedicated to serving individuals in under-resourced communities… [and] is doing everything we can to continue our health ministry. I believe we will come out of this stronger and more connected to the community as a whole. It’s only because of the commitment of Trinity to maintain its service to the poor that we can stay operational when other free clinics have temporarily closed their doors.”

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