They came to a church basement in Silver Spring to celebrate health care for the uninsured in Montgomery County: West African women in neon-bright cotton prints; robed and collared clergy from Bangladesh, Canada and Vietnam; business-suited doctors and elected officials.
Community organizer Jean-Bernard Neim, originally from Cameroon, beamed at the crowd assembled at Our Lady of Vietnam Church that afternoon in June. “It’s a day we never thought would come,” he said. “The opening of . . . the very first pan-African, Haitian clinic in the greater Washington area.”
A choir of a dozen men and women, representing nine African nations and Haiti, took the stage. “It’s marvelous, really marvelous,” they sang in French, clapping and swaying and bringing the audience to its feet.
The pan-African clinic is part of a network of 10 independent, nonprofit health clinics that county leaders hope will expand and become a de facto system of universal health care in Montgomery. An initiative that started five years ago with a $100,000 county grant to promote primary health care for uninsured adults has grown into a $2.1 million annual investment.
Health care advocates, politicians and public-health officials—prodded by County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large)—are now considering how to extend primary care to all low-income, uninsured adults in Montgomery, including undocumented immigrants.