This month, My Brother’s Keeper is launching an on-site primary care clinic in partnership with Saint Agnes Hospital, adding to the wide spectrum of services it offers as a one-stop shop for West Baltimore neighbors in need.

Launching the clinic required upgrading the health suite at My Brother’s Keeper, a Catholic Charities program, to add the equipment found in most primary care offices – items such as an exam table, a vital signs machine, some basic testing tools, and computers to access electronic health records. From this space, Saint Agnes clinicians will provide weekly primary-care services in three half-day sessions.

The on-site clinic will reduce the hurdles people face when trying to get to a doctor, and encourage clients to seek medical care before concerns become crises. But the partnership between My Brother’s Keeper and Saint Agnes is even more fundamental, said Kevin Mason, director of the Catholic Charities program.

“The underlying subtext to it all is really both entities are in partnership to help people maintain a quality of life they can feel proud of as they determine and actualize their life trajectories, make informed health decisions and reach for their hopes and dreams like everyone else with the dignity and respect that all people desire,” he explained. “That’s what it’s about for us.”

Meeting the needs of the whole person

My Brother’s Keeper traces its history to the mid-1980s when the organization began providing coffee, tea and clothing to neighbors in need. Today, it offers a full range of services, including meals, case management, behavioral health and psychiatry services, job training and support, job placement, a GED program, legal aid with expungements, and connections to other supports. The holistic nature of the program was one of the draws for Saint Agnes.

“The model is typically when you go to the doctor’s office, they identify that you have social needs and refer you to services. We wanted to flip that upside down and go to a place where people have access to social supports, and bring medical and clinical [services] to that,” said Allison MacKenzie, director of community health at Saint Agnes Healthcare. “We look for the whole person – not just physical health, but emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. This is a perfect fit.”

The My Brother’s Keeper health suite, pictured here, will be converted into a primary care clinic.

Particularly because the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted some operations, organizers expect a quiet launch for the clinic, a steady increase in visits in coming months, and a total of about 1,200 patient visits over the next year. MacKenzie said the health system is open to expanding to full-time coverage as community members learn about the clinic and patient demands increase.

Empowering people to reach their potential

My Brother’s Keeper and Saint Agnes Hospital are located about 2 miles apart, and both reach communities with significant needs. Mason listed extreme poverty, unemployment, short life expectancies, substance use disorders, lack of access to healthy foods, and significant trauma as factors affecting area residents. In the Irvington neighborhood where the clinic will be located, for example, a 2017 Baltimore City Health Department report showed the local population is more likely to be unemployed, live in poverty, and face significant hardships than the city average.

This is not the first collaboration for the two organizations. On Wednesdays, Saint Agnes offers educational sessions at My Brother’s Keeper on cardiovascular health and diabetes prevention. The hospital has also supported meal service at My Brother’s Keeper – including the distribution of grab-and-go meals after COVID-19 limited operations – and the delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables through produce boxes that support clients interested in healthy eating.

Mason said these interlocking programs are all part of the vision for My Brother’s Keeper, which aims to remove barriers and empower people to achieve sustainable employment, recover from trauma and substance use challenges, gain access to public benefits, and maintain good health.

“In terms of core values, there’s a true commitment in meeting people where they are with compassion and dignity,” he said. “We want clients to reach their God-given potential so they don’t have to come to a place like My Brother’s Keeper.”