“I haven’t heard a voice in 30 years.”
These were the words audiologists and Keith Young heard from a participant last year after Mission of Mercy (MOMPGH), a free two-day dental, vision, and hearing clinic. Young is the chairman of the board of the nonprofit, A Call to Care, who sponsors the clinic. Young also serves as the administrative director for MOMPGH.
MOM began in Pittsburgh in 2017 after a visit from another Mission of Mercy program that had served Pittsburgh the year before. “The problem was that they only visit a city about every five years and we realized we had to do something each year,” Young said. A core group formed A Call to Care to sponsor the event each year (with the exception of 2020 due to the pandemic) and since that time, has served over 5,500 people.
After a few years of providing free dental care, MOM expanded to include free eye care in 2021 and last year, introduced free hearing exams. “Many of the people we see have never seen a dentist, or had a vision or hearing exam before. We gave away 229 pairs of hearing aids – the reaction of some of these people was indescribable. Some were crying,” Young said.
MOM provides services for the underserved populations of the region, those who may be homeless, unemployed, without health insurance, have high medical co-payments or simply stretched too thin. “If it comes down to ‘Do I pay the mortgage, feed my children or get dental care?’ dental care falls to the bottom of the list,” Young said. The majority of those served live within 20 miles of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the event is held, but Young said some come from as far as West Virginia and other areas. “The need is right here in our own backyard,” he said.
There are no required forms or paperwork; people simply show up. “They start lining up the night before. It is first come, first serve,” Young said. This year’s event will be held at the Convention Center October 27–28.
To pull off an event of this size, Young said they need over 1,000 volunteers including dentists, dental hygienists, ophthalmologists, optometrists, audiologists, other health care providers and general volunteers. General volunteers help assist as patient ambassadors, set-up and tear down, coordinating food services, and registration. “It is a way to volunteer where you see tangible results that day,” Young said.
Patients requiring more extensive continuing care are referred to no-cost service providers. “In most cases, we can even help set up a follow-up visit while they are still at the Convention Center,” Young said.
A key component of the two-day event is for patients to be treated with dignity and respect. “We prioritize that with our volunteers—this is one day these folks get the care they need and can feel special,” Young said.
The event is funded primarily through local corporate sponsors and donations. “This has truly become a community event,” Young said. “‘Life changing is so overused, but this is truly a life changing event in so many ways.” For more information including on volunteering visit https://mompgh.org.
North Side Christian Health Center (NSCHC) is celebrating its 30th anniversary of providing health care for marginalized and underserved populations in our region. “Since 1993, we have provided primary and preventative care for children and adults,” Chief Executive Officer Bethany Blackburn explained. In 2011, the nonprofit began providing dental care, and in 2020, it expanded to offer behavioral mental health services.
NSCHC is a Federally Qualified Health Center, so they can provide services on a sliding scale, regardless of insurance. “It is really easy to schedule for care. We have staff who assist in working with our clients with insurance and financing,” she said. Most patients are able to see medical and mental health care providers within 24 hours, with dental services taking a bit longer.
Healthcare services include primary and preventative care to improve health and well-being, such as general physical exams, gynecological exams, sick visits, and cancer screenings. Children’s services include well child visits and immunizations and vision and hearing screenings. Dental services include general exams, fillings, crowns, bridges, minor oral surgery and more. For those patients requiring more extensive services, NSCHC will provide a referral to a reduced cost specialist when possible. Outpatient behavioral health services at NSCHC are provided by social workers, licensed counselors, and psychologists to children and adults. According to Blackburn, services include common mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, stress, and trauma related disorders to name a few.
NSCHC serves over 4,000 unique patients each year with over 12,000 visits at their North Side headquarters and Northview Heights satellite office. It is important to note that there is no religious obligation for services through NSCHC. “We are here to meet patients at our health care center to provide support and services, whatever they need,” she said, “It is our mission to make healthcare accessible to anyone—you don’t need insurance,” Blackburn said. For more information, visit https://www.nschc.org or 412-321-4001.
The Midwife Center of Pittsburgh has been one of the leading birth centers in the country since 1982. In addition to serving expectant and new mothers, the independent, fully licensed nonprofit provides gynecological services to women of all ages. Services are available to all women, including those who may not have insurance. “Throughout our 40-year history, we have always wanted to be accessible to whomever needs or wants our services. We take our mission to provide health care very seriously,” Christine Haas, executive director, said. The Center accepts most health insurance plans, and for those without insurance, staff will assist clients with applying for Medicaid or the Center’s sliding fee scale.
The Midwife Center offers a wide range of services including pre-and-postnatal care, a variety of gynecological services, lactation consultants and support groups, behavioral health care services and support groups for new and expectant parents, education classes and most recently, ultrasound services. “We also have community health workers who can help our clients connect to resources such as housing assistance, food banks, diaper banks, and other services,” Haas said.
Because The Midwife Center has been able to assist with a variety of insurance and payment options, they have been able to reduce racial disparities in health care experiences in Pittsburgh. “We see our services as being part of the whole solution to provide healthcare for all,” Haas said. The Center delivers almost 400 babies annually and provides 2,000 gynecological visits a year, according to Haas.
The Midwife Center also hosts “Wellness Walk-in Fridays” for gynecological services provided on a first come, first serve basis. “This helps meet the need for someone who might have difficulty scheduling an appointment due to childcare issues, undependable transportation, etc.,” Haas said. As with all of their services, they will work with patients about options including medical assistance. “We are also a member of Adagio Health so we can provide free care or on a sliding fee scale,” Haas said.
The Center also offers a variety of language and translation services to those who do not speak English. For more information, visit https://midwifecenter.org or 412-321-6800.