Celebrating a helping hand

The local Volunteers In Medicine clinic staff reduced its number of patients by one third earlier this year by getting them state Medicaid coverage via the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.

But many of those 300 people have returned to the clinic because of a bottleneck of patients waiting to be seen in a geographic area with a shortage of primary care physicians, said Julie Abedian. She is president of the Columbus Regional Health Foundation, which raises money for the clinic as part of its multifaceted role.

“Long-term, the bottleneck will ease. But for now, VIM is serving a critical need,” Abedian said. “And that has always been the VIM mission — to fill the access gaps. As we plan for the future clinic (in the State Street area), that will continue to be the priority.”

The foundation is hoping to finalize the location for the new clinic by early next year, she said.

Meanwhile, Abedian is reminding people that Platinum Celebration, Friday’s 20th annual Reverse Raffle at The Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, is as important as ever. Last year’s event raised a record $182,000 and included the annual attraction of a $10,000 prize drawing.

“We’re still taking care of a lot of people,” Abedian said. “And we still anticipate a lot of them being in transition.”

The event features a waiting list for tickets, with 500 sold to fill the Clarion’s ballroom — and still leave space for people to dance to tunes from the 1970s and 1980s via the Atlanta-based Yacht Rock Revue band, featuring lead singers and Columbus natives Nick Niespodziani and Peter Olson.

The gathering generates about 35 percent of the clinic’s annual budget of about $500,000, Abedian said.

The nonprofit facility, which receives no tax money, helps uninsured Bartholomew County residents get the care they need. Medical staff consists of volunteering physicians, nurses, dentists and other specialty personnel at the location near 10th Street and Marr Road in Columbus.

Columbus’ Karen Hazelgrove, who worked full time for years as a janitor for a local firm and also as a house cleaner for local executives, knows quite well where she would be without Volunteers In Medicine.

“I would be in the graveyard,” she said straightforwardly of problems with diabetes, blood pressure, kidney stones and other challenges.

She is among the 600 current clinic patients, more than half of which work full time with no health care benefits. But is transitioning to Medicare since she just turned 65. The clinic will help her until she can be linked with a primary care physician early next year.

“All this means the world to me, let me tell you,” Hazelgrove said.

The clinic, launched from a Healthy Communities agency initiative, is now offering a broader array of services to a more complex patient landscape, Abedian said. That includes a growing number of patients needing chronic disease management, for example.

Plus, it includes additional case management with some patients at Columbus Regional Hospital’s emergency room to save health care costs by coordinating their care with the clinic. Abedian said that much of the emergency attention with a lot of those patients amounts to primary care.

“Our new case manager at VIM is working harder than ever to meet the patient’s primary health care needs after they leave (the) ER,” she said.

One part of the bottom line is simple, Abedian said.

“We’re spending more money on case management and chronic disease management in order to provide the greatest health benefit for the lowest cost to the community,” Abedian said.

Mary Ferdon, the clinic’s executive director, said that while fewer patients currently are receiving care, the amount of time and money spent with each patient is rising, since many have delayed much-needed care for far too long.

“Their needs are just much more complicated,” Ferdon said.

Plus, their financial needs must be addressed, too, Ferdon said.

So the clinic’s next step is to find a way to give some patients enough financial assistance so they can pay insurance premiums to remain covered. Currently, clinic and foundation leaders are meeting with other agencies such as United Way of Bartholomew County to develop a solution to that need.

For the Reverse Raffle, even the evening’s entertainers understand such issues. Singer and musician Niespodziani recalls living several years without insurance as a full-time, traveling musician. Some of his cohorts faced the same hurdle.

“We’re really struck by this special cause,” Niespodziani said. “This obviously is a great need in our country right now.”

Event organizers credit the youthful, well-known ensemble for helping the event attract plenty of first-time ticket buyers in their 20s and 30s — significant since the gathering often has attracted a sizable older following.

“The power of the music from the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s connects as well with young people as it does with older people,” Niespodziani said.

The Reverse Raffle

What: Platinum Celebration, the 20th Annual Reverse Raffle fundraiser for the local Volunteers In Medicine Clinic at Tenth Street and Marr Road in Columbus, which treats the uninsured.

When: Reception at 6:30 p.m. Friday, dinner at 7:30 p.m., followed by a reverse raffle in which people’s ticket numbers drawn are eliminated until the raffle leaves one person remaining to win a $10,000 prize.

Where: Columbus’ The Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, 2480 Jonathan Moore Pike.

Tickets: $170 per person or $240 per couple. But a waiting list exists since the event sold out days ago at 500 tickets. Organizers expect some tickets to come open from those who ultimately can’t make it.

Dinner: Chicken Coq au Vin prepared by chef Troy Matthews and twice-cooked butternut squash by chef Jonathon Thomas.

Entertainment: By the nationally touring, Atlanta-based Yacht Rock Revue, performing covers from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Raffle tickets for the $10,000 prize: About 200 left, available at 812-376-5100 or http://support.foundation.crh.org/raffle.

Information: crh.org.

The new clinic
  • Working on securing a location in the State Street area
  • Scheduled to open at the end of 2016, beginning of 2017
  • New services: Case management, care coordination, connections to social services and job opportunities, substance abuse, paid medical care
  • Treats insured, uninsured, Medicaid patients.

The current clinic

Location: 940 N. Marr Road in Columbus.

Requirements: Bartholomew County resident, household income 60 percent or less than median county income or no insurance.

Services: Medical, medication assistance, dental, mental health, nutritional counseling, tobacco, chronic disease management, community health initiatives.

Information: 812-376-9750.

Clinic overall stats

Since its beginning in 1996, the Volunteers in Medicine clinic has treated 11,504 unique patients. Local physicians donate their time and services to treat low-income patients at the clinic. In the past three years, doctors donated:

  • 8,000-plus hours in 2012
  • 8,665 hours in 2013
  • 8,899 hours in 2014

Volunteers in Medicine also provides medications to its patients through the Medication Assistance Program. In the past three years, patients were given:

  • $2.2 million in medication in 2012
  • $2.1 million in medication in 2013
  • $1.938 million in medication in 2014
Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.