BY JANET MANDELSTAM
They walk into the clinic on West 2nd Street—113 of them on an average day—to see a doctor or dentist, stop at the pharmacy, or receive mental health services. Monday is women’s health night; the Friday focus is on spines. And if they meet the eligibility requirements, the care is delivered at no cost.
Since 2007, Volunteers in Medicine of Monroe County (VIM) has been providing health care at the clinic to low-income, uninsured residents of Monroe and Owen counties.
VIM is a national program with clinics in some 90 locations. But a few years ago Dr. Rajih Haddawi noticed that “we didn’t have anything in our county to serve these people.” Haddawi, now a retired orthopedic hand surgeon, visited other sites and held more than 50 meetings with “people who all supported the idea” of establishing a clinic in Bloomington.
“Dr. Haddawi’s passion brought people to the table,” says VIM Executive Director Nancy Richman. “He said the community has to provide services to those who cannot access care.” With strong support from The Cook Group, Bloomington Hospital (now IU Health), and hundreds of medical and lay volunteers, VIM opened as a family-practice clinic.
Today more than 450 volunteers and a paid staff of 9 offer primary and preventive care, health education, medications (with only a low-cost handling fee), psychological counseling, diagnostic laboratory and radiology tests (at the hospital), and dental care. Any uninsured resident of Monroe or Owen county whose income does not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level is eligible to be treated at the clinic. For an individual, 200 percent of the poverty level is $22,340; for a family of four, it is $46,100.
Richman says the clinic has seen “a steady increase” in the number of clients it serves. “And there have been demographic changes, too,” she says. “It’s not just the homeless. Many of the clients are employed or under-employed but have no health insurance.” It would not be possible to serve them, she says, “without the phenomenal support of the community.”
Volunteer coordinator Shelley Sallee says the volunteers “are a reflection of Bloomington, of how kind and compassionate this community is. They want to help people who need medical care in any way they can.” Many of the medical volunteers are retired doctors and dentists. The duties of the lay volunteers, who range from college students to an 87-year-old receptionist, include greeting clients, working the phones, scheduling appointments, and updating medical records.
The relationship between the clinic and IU Health Bloomington Hospital benefits both. The hospital provides three full-time staffers for the clinic—a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner, and a pharmacist—and performs laboratory and radiology tests for clinic clients. “The hospital is very proud to support the Volunteers in Medicine clinic,” says Ruth Ann Morris, vice president of patient-care services at IU Health and a member of the clinic board. Because the clinic has become a source of primary care, preventive services, and continuity for its clients, “there are fewer emergency room visits” at the hospital, Morris says. “It’s quality care at less cost.”