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Walnut Street director looks to extend center's outreach effort

August 09, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Living her first 18 years in Cameroon, West Africa, gave Dr. Laura Asher a strong sense of commitment, something she brings with her as the new medical director of the Walnut Street Community Health Center.

"Growing up in Africa was a very enriching experience," Asher said. "I had a vision there which made me very passionate about serving the poor."

A graduate of Howard University Medical School, Asher took her residency training at George Washington and West Virginia universities. Prior to assuming her new post on Aug. 2, Asher "honed and polished" her skills at Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) Family Medicine.

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Asher, 38, and her husband, Kevin, who also is a physician, have four children ranging in age from 11 to 17.

Describing her native country on Africa's western coast as one of the more politically stable and progressive nations on that continent, Asher said Cameroon's culturally diverse population continues to struggle nonetheless.

Most of her family still lives in Cameroon and Asher returns as often as she can. Those trips are much more than family visits.

"When I go back, I go to work with the poor," Asher said. "It's my way of authenticating my career and giving back to my native country."

That passion doesn't stop when she is in the United States. Asher has worked with the poor in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and will continue to volunteer as much time as she can in Washington County.

At her new post, Asher says she will strive to extend the umbrella of services for the people served by the health center at 24 N. Walnut St. in Hagerstown.

"We now have the means to go out into the community as advocates in the area of obesity, smoking and adolescent sexuality," Asher said.

The center, a nonprofit health-care facility owned and operated by the community, has been in Hagerstown since 1994. It provides comprehensive primary health care to individuals and families with an emphasis on the medically underserved, regardless of ability to pay.

Office hours are weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Tuesdays, the center is open until 8 p.m.

The center, which became a federally qualified community health center in 2003, has a medical provider on call for emergencies after hours. It operates on federal and state grants, as well as co-payments from insurance carriers.

Although as medical director Asher runs the clinic, she said she also will see patients.

"I love patient care - it's the heart and soul of what I do," she said.

In both capacities, Asher is committed to making sure overall care is excellent and compassionate.

She also is excited about improving outreach to the elderly and minorities, adding more services for women and aggressively recruiting new patients.

As part of that, Asher and the rest of the staff are planning a health fair at the center on Saturday.

Keeping Our Communities Healthy is the theme of the fair. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., staff will be available to give tours and free health screenings such as diabetic risk assessments, confidential HIV testing information and skin cancer and blood pressure screenings.

For more information about the fair and/or services at the center, call 301-745-3777.

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