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Free clinic takes shape with grant award

Site will serve county’s uninsured

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Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011 1:15 am

Uninsured children and adults in Montgomery County will soon have access to expanded and improved healthcare services.

Plans for a free clinic were announced Thursday night during a League of Women Voters forum at Wabash College about health care in Montgomery County.

“This is a dream so many of us have had and have worked toward for many years and it’s finally moving closer to reality,” said Bill Doemel, president of the MCFreeClinic board of directors.

Doemel announced that North Central Health Services has awarded a $900,000 matching grant to the Montgomery County Free Clinic Inc. to purchase and renovate an existing building in Crawfordsville to operate a free clinic to provide health care services for uninsured county residents.

In awarding the grant, NCHS of Lafayette has challenged the MCFreeClinic Board to raise $300,000 which NCHS will match $3 for each $1, for a total of $1.2 million.

Doemel said it will be a challenge for the community to raise the money.

“We can do it, it won’t be easy, it won’t be any easier than when those eight women gathered at Milligan Memorial Church and started the Well Baby Clinic and Christian Nursing Services,” he said.

A strategic fundraising plan is already underway to create and endow the free clinic, which will be named in honor of Dr. Mary Ludwig, the Crawfordsville pediatrician who spearheaded the creation of the Well Baby Clinic of Christian Nursing Service in 1968.

The creation of this free clinic builds on the long-standing work done by the CNS. Like its Well Baby Clinic, currently housed at Milligan Memorial Church on Mill Street, the free clinic will be supported by private funds, not tax dollars.

CNS has operated a free clinic for the uninsured at the church since 1968 utilizing an extensive network of nurses, doctors and citizen volunteers. The ongoing need for the maintenance and privacy at the existing facility, the increasing complexity of health care needs and the loss of the organization’s volunteer physician led organizers to seek a new home and new model for the clinic.

“This new clinic will allow CNS to move forward,” Doemel said.

The free clinic will offer basic medical and dental services to the uninsured both children and adults who meet income guidelines. Residents who meet 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines ($29,140 for a family of two), $44,100 for a family of four and $59,060 for a family of six) will be eligible to receive services.

“Every day I encounter children and adults who simply do not have access to medical care,” said Christine Amidon, RN, BSN, who is president of the CNS board of directors, in a prepared statement. “This generous grant from NCHS will enable us to provide acute and preventative health and dental services to people in our county who are currently going without care. We have a team of medical, nursing and other professionals who are ready to put this plan into action.”

The Dr. Mary Ludwig Free Clinic will be the fourth Volunteers in Medicine facility in the state, joining clinics located in Bloomington, Columbus and Indianapolis. VIM is a national organization that promotes and supports free medical clinics that are sprinkled throughout the country. VIM brings a “culture of caring” to the clinic, which recognizes the strengths of those in need and respects their dignity.

Following the retirement of its clinic physician, Dr. Keith Bard, CNS knew it had to pursue new alternatives. Community leader Suanne Milligan headed a committee of CNS and community members to explore different options. The group recommended the formation of a new group to seek a building and agreement with healthcare professionals and Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health-Crawfordsville. CNS representatives joined members of the healthcare community to form this new organization, Montgomery County Free Clinic Inc.

This clinic will continue the mission of CNS in partnership with physicians, dentists, nurses, healthcare professionals and community members. The clinic will also be home to the Meals on Wheels program.

“I am thrilled that NCHS has recognized the importance of delivering high-quality primary care to our uninsured residents,” said Dr. John Roberts in a prepared statement. “A healthy and educated populace is critical to the well being of any community. In the Dr. Mary Ludwig Free Clinic, we plan to provide medical care and, perhaps more importantly, health education. I look forward to seeing the Montgomery County community come together once again to help us fulfill our mission.”

The idea of a clinic gained momentum last year when the MCFreeClinic Board reached and agreement with Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health-Crawfordsville to provide up to $100,000 in supportive services to the clinic and to provide electronic medical record software for the volunteer physicians. This agreement assured the patients of the free clinic would receive any necessary tests and follow-up care that may be needed.

“Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health-Crawfordsville is excited about the opening of the Dr. Mary Ludwig Free Clinic and is proud to be a part of this process,” said Nancy Sennett, chief nursing officer and vice president of nursing, in a prepared statement. “This is a part of the calling and matches the vision and mission of the Sisters of St. Francis, our sponsoring organization and the Franciscan Alliance — to make sure that all people have access to quality health care in the communities we live in and serve.”

The Montgomery County Health Department will continue the program of vaccinations and initiatives to provide education and support for those with chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, smoking and coronary artery disease. County Health Nurse Rebecca Lang said the health department has been part of this initiative since 2007 because “a physically healthy community drives a healthy economy.”

Furthermore, “It will be most rewarding to refer patients to this local clinic instead of referring them to health services in a distant county,” Lang said. “Most individuals who come to the health department needing health services are those who are working and can’t afford the health insurance premiums or who are working at a part-time job that doesn’t offer insurance.”

Lang said many times she must refer residents to clinics in Rockville and Indianapolis, and often these same people do not have the means necessary to make the trip.

The MCFreeClinic Board also created partnerships with the dental community to provide dental care as a central part of the free clinic’s work. Dr. Janet Rucker, local dentist, has been a part of the MCFreeClinic since its inception.

“Crawfordsville dentists will be able to offer basic dental services through the clinic to fulfill the Oath of Dentistry taken upon graduation, ‘to enrich our lives in the service of mankind,’” she said in a press release. “We are all excited to have this opportunity to stress the importance of good dental health in overall general health.”

Doemel acknowledges that the CNS has improved the lives of children and adults in the community for more than 40 years. He stressed that the CNS is not disappearing, only be transformed.

“In these tough economic times, even more of our citizens are without health insurance than were in 1968. There is a greater need for health care and for health education. Thanks to the generosity of NCHS, the Montgomery County community has the opportunity to meet those needs with a free clinic.”

Doemel said the group hopes to have the new free clinic open by the summer of 2012.

“We can’t afford to wait,” he said.

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