By David Ogul
After three decades in the printing business, Mary Baker decided it was time to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. Now a lecturer at the Cal State San Marcos School of Nursing who spearheaded a network of student-run community health clinics from Ocean Beach to Escondido, Baker’s commitment to serving the most vulnerable has earned her a San Diego Business Journal Healthcare Heroes Award for her exceptional leadership and innovation in the rapidly changing healthcare industry.
She isn’t done. Baker and fellow CSUSM nursing instructor Rosemary Gaines are on the verge of opening a fifth clinic as early as June at St. Patrick Catholic Church’s Father Raymond Moore Hall in Carlsbad.
“The need is there,” said Baker, who launched the Student Healthcare Project in 2011 when she was a graduate student who was also teaching at CSUSM.
The new clinic will be open on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month to coincide when volunteers at Father Raymond Moore Hall set up mobile showers and distribute food and clothing to the needy. Gaines and Baker are arranging to have a nurse practitioner or physician volunteer at the student-run center in the mornings when the other social services are provided.
The newest site complements a growing network that includes a clinic in Escondido, one in the San Diego neighborhood of Normal Heights, and two in Ocean Beach. Baker opened the first clinic in Ocean Beach in 2011.
“We saw one patient the first day,” she said. In 2017, more than 800 patients – nearly 90 percent of who were uninsured – were seen a total of 3,507 times. Nearly 30 percent said they would have gone to a hospital emergency room if the clinics were not available, saving the county an estimated $622,665 in unreimbursed emergency room costs.
The student-run clinics are supported financially through partnerships that include private donors, health care organizations, ministries, grants and the CSUSM School of Nursing. Not only do they provide needed care, they also offer students an opportunity to practice their skills in a community environment rather than solely in a hospital setting.
Baker said she always wanted to become a nurse, finally taking the plunge after 30 years in the printing business. At age 50, she enrolled at Cal State San Marcos and was part of the University’s first class to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, part of the first class to earn a Master of Science in nursing, and part of the first class to earn a post-master’s degree certificate as a family nurse practitioner. It was while she was a graduate student that she, fellow student Michelle Alfe and faculty adviser Linnea Axman opened the first clinic in Ocean Beach.
“She is a powerful change agent in health care, championing vulnerable populations,” wrote Dr. Pam Kohlbry, associate professor, School of Nursing, in nominating Baker for the award. “Mary leads with a calm, centered, compassionate heart and is a true advocate for a holistic healing with the most vulnerable individuals and their families with complex health problems.”
Baker demurred when discussing the San Diego Business Journal Healthcare Heroes Award.
“What we do is such a team effort,” she said. “Our students work so hard to provide the care, doctors and nurse practitioners are coming in to volunteer their time, the mental health professionals are coming in to provide mental health counseling, and there are so many people who contribute financially. I’m very humbled and honored to be recognized by the award, but so many people are involved. It really belongs to them.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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