Helping Others Thrive: A Conversation with Maria Gomez
By Madeline Jones (H’26)
In our Conversations in Health: Global to Local class on March 14, Maria Gomez (N’77) spoke about her mission in founding Mary’s Center. She began the center to serve pregnant women fleeing violence from war in Central America during the 1980s. Her primary focus was providing what people in the area actually needed to thrive, even when it extended beyond health services. In order to do this, Gomez drew on her experience making home visits for her patients, which allowed her to observe all of the factors that contributed to a person’s well-being—or lack thereof. Although the term “social health determinants” was not commonplace back then, the phenomenon was always present.
What Gomez found is that vulnerable populations, such as those served by Mary’s Center, are severely impacted by issues such as housing insecurity, malnutrition, and language barriers that make seeking health care nearly impossible for many. Due to this, Gomez directed her work towards building a support system for her patients through forming personal relationships with each and every one of them. In doing so, she was able to reach them at a time when other health care providers were not able to—or simply were not willing to.
Today, Mary’s Center is bigger and more active than ever. It continues to serve the migrant community it originally targeted, as well as underserved populations all over Washington, DC, and the surrounding area. Although she recently retired, Gomez is very optimistic about the future of health care in the United States. She acknowledged the positive changes she has seen since she started Mary’s Center, such as the shift for more inclusive emergency room admittance and the creation of organizations like the DC Healthcare Alliance. Gomez also shared some hopes she holds for future government-led health care endeavors, including investments in the improvement of the migrants’ home countries, investment in novel health care programs (failure is not something to be afraid of!), investment in timely primary care, and overall policies based on real solutions, not just who is in power at the time.
Most of all, Gomez stressed the importance of holistic care of patients by going into the community, providing everyone with an education, and finding out who the patient is as a person. In her words, “You cannot care for mothers without putting food on their tables.” Finally, she advised us to surround ourselves with the brightest minds, seek creative solutions, never stop questioning, and most importantly, look for the humanity in each and every face we encounter.
Madeline Jones (H’26) is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University studying human science on a pre-medical track. She is a student in the Conversations in Health: Global to Local course.