Students learning, patients improving through UGA’s partnership with Mercy Health Center

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Athens, Ga. - Mallory Walters, a University of Georgia senior majoring in biology with a goal of becoming a physician's assistant, has volunteered her time for several health-related causes.

One that holds a special place in her heart is Mercy Health Center, a faith-based primary care clinic that provides free health care to uninsured patients in Athens-Clarke County and the surrounding communities.

"As a medical assistant, I worked hands on with the patients who let me be a part of their story," Walters said. "Each week I heard the hardships of lack of access to health care due to socioeconomic status. While this was hard, I also felt hope and pride watching the providers in this community volunteer their time to fight this disparity."

Walters is just one of hundreds of UGA students and faculty members who have placed a priority on providing community support by volunteering at the center.

Mercy began in 2001 as a once-a-week clinic at a local church. Today, the clinic has a staff of 16 and more than 800 volunteers, offering 14 specialties and serving almost 4,000 patients per year. Some of that growth is thanks to the clinic's relationship with UGA.

Students and doctors in the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership, as well as students and faculty in other schools and colleges, use Mercy for experiential learning opportunities, a relationship that proves beneficial to both patients and students.

"We are unbelievably blessed to have UGA," said Tracy Thompson, executive director of the center. "I feel like it's a two-way street-students are learning and patients are improving."

Dr. Catherine Bourg Rebitch, clinical associate professor in the UGA College of Pharmacy, serves as pharmacist at Mercy and uses the clinic as a practice site for her students.

"For students in a health care profession, nothing substitutes hands-on learning in a real patient care environment," she said. "Our patient population at Mercy is extremely complex, and we focus on a whole person care model. We recognize that people needing health care have spiritual and emotional needs as well."

In addition to medical disciplines, students and faculty from several schools and colleges at UGA are involved at Mercy, like the College of Education offering counseling and mental health services to the UGA School of Law offering legal counsel at the Health Legal Partnership (HeLP) clinic.

UGA has also helped Mercy gain local support. Led by Dr. Phaedra Corso, UGA Foundation Professor of Human Health in the College of Public Health, a recent research project allowed students to plan, implement, and present research that illustrated the benefit of Mercy to the community and encouraged support from Athens-area hospitals.

"Our goal is to make sure that quality health care is given to people who come in our doors, regardless of how they got here," Thompson said. "We realize there are many barriers, but no barrier is too big for people to be respected and loved and see quality health care. We could not do what we do for our community without UGA."

Mercy Health Center Inc. welcomes professional volunteers, such as doctors and dentists, as well as community volunteers. If you are interested, contact Tracy Thompson at tracy@mercyhealthcenter.net.