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Nurse volunteers to ensure uninsured have medical care

Mary Lew McCarty stands in front of a crucifix at Duchesne Clinic where she has volunteered for 20 years. McCarty’s role at the clinic has changed over the years, but her dedication to its mission remains constant. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

by Moira Cullings

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Mary Lew McCarty still beams with joy as she volunteers at Duchesne Clinic here.

But even after 20 years of volunteering, “I don’t think I do enough,” said McCarty.

“I have no idea what [the patients’] challenges are,” she said. “I’m just glad to feel like I’m a drop in the bucket.”

Duchesne Clinic is a primary care doctor’s office that serves low-income, uninsured residents of Wyandotte County.

Patients who come to the clinic have no insurance and no way to pay for their care.

Volunteers like McCarty breathe life into the clinic, welcoming patients and facilitating their access to the care they might not otherwise receive.

McCarty’s work at Duchesne Clinic began in the late 1990s.

Although she was a registered nurse, McCarty had three children in three different schools and stopped working in her profession to focus on her family.

But McCarty’s interest in the medical field never waned. And she became particularly curious about the avenues that were actually more effective in providing certain types of patient care — avenues that avoided the chaos of the emergency room.

“And I heard Sister [Janet Cashman, SCL] talking about the clinic in Kansas City, where they tried to do just that,” she continued. “So I thought I could volunteer.”

Initially, McCarty worked with patient histories and took blood pressure, as well as finger sticks if the patient had diabetes.

“But I couldn’t talk to them because they [spoke] Spanish,” she said.

The working knowledge McCarty had from her college Spanish classes wasn’t enough, so she joined a club called La Causerie in Kansas City, Missouri, where she could learn more of the language.

“I was able to brush up, and then I took a course at [Johnson County Community College] so I could learn grammar,” she said.

Although her Spanish was shaky at first, she felt encouraged by the kindness of the patients and staff at the clinic.

“People were so friendly,” she said. “They weren’t making fun of me.”

McCarty’s work went from documenting histories to checking medications to helping with paperwork, which is now her primary focus.

Every year in the month of their birth, Duchesne Clinic’s patients must bring in certain documents to continue receiving care at the clinic.

McCarty spends about three hours each week at Duchesne — sometimes longer depending on the need — helping patients fill out that paperwork.

The clinic is not her only volunteer effort. She recently joined the Ladies of Charity and continues to volunteer at the Seton Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

But the most challenging part of her volunteer work is to be found at the clinic — and it isn’t the time she puts into it.

It’s “when people need so much,” she said.

“They come in and they don’t have a permanent address because they got kicked out, or they just arrived and have these overwhelming health issues and all of their medical records are from Mexico,” she said.

McCarty wishes there was more she could do. But 20 years of volunteering always pays off — when she sees the patients get better.

The values Duchesne Clinic embodies are a big reason McCarty has stayed as a volunteer for so long.

“I think all of our staff have a faith in God and in the presence of Jesus,” she said. “That’s part of why I’m here instead of another clinic.”

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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