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Q & A: Linda Ryan returns to Mission of Mercy as executive director

Q & A: Linda Ryan returns to Mission of Mercy as executive director
Linda Ryan (Mission of Mercy)

When Westminster resident Linda Ryan took over as head of local health care nonprofit Mission of Mercy earlier this month, she was in familiar territory. Ryan served as head of the organization from 2006 to 2009, when she departed to care for her ailing father.

Now, six years after leaving Mission of Mercy, Ryan is back and says she is ready to pick up where she left off. She takes the reins of the organization — which relies entirely on donations, grants and volunteer hours to provide free health care, dental services and prescriptions to the uninsured and underinsured in Maryland and Pennsylvania — one month after the group began a regular monthly clinic in Taneytown.

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Q: In addition to your previous work with Mission of Mercy, you've also served as executive director at other charities, including Executive Director for Change, Inc., Hope Alive and Operation Smile. What is it that drew you into the nonprofit field?

A: I've always cared about people. I have a disabled son [Troy, who is now 47] and so I think that's really drawn me into the nonprofit world. I really wanted, originally, to be an educator and an elementary teacher, and when my son was born, no one gave me a manual to take care of him. So [when] I did my graduate work in special ed — I did it at Hopkins — I just got drawn to, first of all, CHANGE, Inc., because that's where my son was as a little guy. I started there as a substitute and just worked my way up as I was finishing my degree. I ended up being the executive director there and that really got me into this nonprofit world. From there, I just continued to work with different charities and loved it and that's where I feel really comfortable.

Q: Tell me a little about the time you spent from 2006 to 2009 with Mission of Mercy.

A: Actually, I've known Mission of Mercy since its inception, which it's actually now in its 22nd year. I met [founders] Gianna and Michael and Sister Mary Bernadette Forney in Emmitsburg who told me what they were doing and I stuck with them and was really excited about their work. They invited me to come on their board and I was excited. So I was on the board for a number of years and served as president of the board. Dr. Gianna Sullivan invited me to be their executive director, so I served in that capacity for a couple of years until my father became very ill in Pennsylvania and my stepmother also was ailing. ... I decided to add on to my consulting business career and life coaching, so I did five certifications on a fast track executive program and completed that and then found out about this opening again at Mission of Mercy and I thought, "You know what, I'll apply and just see if they're interested and if it's a fit," and, as God would have it, here I am.

Q: What went into your decision to return to Mission of Mercy?

A: It was really an easy decision because I don't know that I was really ready to leave when I did, it's that I really needed to leave because of my family situation. It's a gift and I'm very appreciative to be back. ... It's just like getting back on a bike, but not quite. Thank God that I know the organization from the ground up, and that's really, really helpful for me.

Q: What kind of work are you doing in Taneytown?

A: We're very active, and have been, in Taneytown, but we're expanding services. We have a clinic one Saturday a month now we're trying in Taneytown so that we can help individuals who would maybe normally go to the ER who don't have insurance or can't afford their co-pays. So we're hoping to pick up new patients with our Saturday morning clinic. ... We've been doing this since October, and also we've been in Taneytown since '95.

Q: How has the Affordable Care Act changes what Mission of Mercy does?

A: Many individuals, even with Obamacare, they can't afford the co-pays or, if they're elderly and they have [Medicare] Part A and B, some of them aren't even able to afford that $114 a month for Part B. Many are not able to afford a supplemental plan and most of our patients have chronic illness — diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure — and, so when they come in to see us, we make sure they have an appointment for the next time so that we're keeping them out of the ER and keeping them healthy ... We still have many, many patients. I think [that's] because there are still kinks in the program and also the fact that people cannot afford the co-pays. They can't really afford anything, especially those on limited incomes and especially seniors. If they're only living on Social Security, they're using that $1,000, or maybe less, to pay for their rent or pay for their food or pay for their car ... You might have someone who's been working and they had a job and they had insurance and now they're like in between and, again, they don't have the money to come up with a co-pay and they're like 'Oh, my gosh. What am I going to?" Or they went into the hospital and they had some sort of illness and they were prescribed a medication. We give generic medications away, but also, in each of our sites, we have someone who's qualified from all of the drug companies to sit down with patients who can't take generics and they're supposed to be on regular brands, and we help them to fill out all that paperwork so they themselves will qualify to get the medications that they need.

Q: How has your first week back at Mission of Mercy been?

A: Wonderful. We've had a lot of meetings, because we meet a lot with our grantors and different foundations. ... It's been wonderful. It's a real privilege to serve Mission of Mercy in this way. I feel really blessed and real happy to be back.

Q: What in your career so far are you most proud of?

A: I would say that God has used me to help. Whether it's been with the disabled at CHANGE or with homeless mothers and children or here or Hope Alive, I feel honored to be able to do his work. And I love Mission of Mercy because it's faith-based and we really realize that we're just God's workers here and I'm just happy to be one of them. It's a whole team. I'm certainly just one tiny little piece of this puzzle. Just like when we go to one of our clinics takes 25 people to put on a clinic day, between our volunteers for registration, our nurses for triage, the nurses to give medications, our hospitality workers, we also at different sites have like Social Services, maybe we have the food back come to our Frederick site. It takes a plethora of people and I'm very fortunate to be one of them.

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Q: What are your goals for the future of Mission of Mercy?

A: We're trying to raise money now, we do have a large grant and we're trying to match that, to raise enough money for us to have a separate van just for dental. So we do need to raise quite a bit of money for that. ... Dental is the forgotten care, really, in our country. Nothing is provided under Medicare for individuals, and even, again, if you're on Social Security, you're probably not going to have enough money to buy a supplemental program for dental. That's not included anywhere. ... [We also want] continued income to support the good work we're doing now.

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