The Problem: Access to Healthcare
If you look around, it is not difficult to find the medically underserved—they live in every city, town and village in America.
While healthcare reform offers wonderful opportunities for legal citizens, there are still far too many people falling through the cracks and ending up without medical care. The relevant question is no longer: Do you have health insurance, but are you able and equipped to access care?
In the absence of a national and state health policy that includes health care for everyone, concerned citizens need to find other ways to provide the medically underserved with the services they need.
The Solution: Volunteers in Medicine
Even with healthcare reform, Volunteers in Medicine continues to provide the life-saving services for which we are well known – primary care, acute walk-in, specialty services, medications, education and prevention – to a number of medically underserved populations either ineligible for federal insurance or "kicked off" of their insurance. At the same time, we are concerned about the many people that are now insured but don’t know how to find a doctor, or have been assigned Healthy IN Plan doctors in another town and don’t know how to change the assignment, or who are already being suspended from HIP for various reasons. We are concerned about people experiencing homelessness who bury their medications in the woods to prevent them from being stolen; some of whom struggle with substance abuse or mental illness, and for whom navigating the insurance system is overwhelming.
VIM is in the unique position of providing safety-net services that bridge the gap until people are successfully settled into a new medical home. Beyond our excellent medical services, VIM assists individuals with insurance enrollments, understanding communications from the state HIP office, scheduling initial visits with primary care physicians, and transferring records. However, it has become clear that for many people this isn’t enough to create a successful transition to a new medical home.
The populations of patients served by VIM, people living in poverty, lacking resources of all kinds, are typically facing other critical challenges in their lives besides their immediate healthcare needs – lack of food; unemployment; inability to pay for gas and electricity; homelessness or sub-standard housing. Not surprisingly, these challenges significantly affect their health.
While health insurance may expand options for medical services and the management of disease, it does not change any of the social/economic issues that profoundly affect a person’s health. VIM understands the culture of poverty and the social-economic challenges that impinge on health. VIM has placed a nurse practitioner on a regularly scheduled basis at the Shalom Community Center serving people experiencing homelessness, and Crawford Apartments, where, even if people have insurance, they have not yet attained consistent access to healthcare. VIM is a critical partner for integrating system navigation, case management, social work, and coordination of services into the healthcare delivery system. Our mission hasn’t changed; our scope of service, however, is expanding.
Beyond the services for which we are well known (for a complete list of services provided at the clinic, (see Services and Eligibility), VIM has entered into a partnership with Indiana University Health Bloomington to provide preventive health screenings, insurance enrollment and access to healthcare services to people experiencing homelessness and those at risk for homelessness. The partnership was developed to reduce barriers to care, identify needed healthcare priorities and support the client in their access to needed services.
Access to healthcare is a fundamental building block for all facets of life. VIM remains the only comprehensive health care clinic offering free medical services to low‐income medically underserved residents of Monroe and Owen counties. While healthcare reform offers wonderful opportunities for citizens, there are still far too many people falling through the cracks. VIM continues to fill an essential gap in the community’s continuum of medical services for people living in poverty who need healthcare support.
About Volunteers in Medicine Alliance
Volunteers in Medicine is a national program with a history of success in other communities around the country. The community of Hilton Head, South Carolina, led by a group of retired medical professionals, established the first clinic. Today, that clinic provides care for more than 20,000 patient visits a year and has served as a model for over 95 additional Volunteers in Medicine clinics in cities across the United States, including Columbus, Indiana.