Volunteers in Medicine of Monroe County to Join HealthNet
Through an innovative partnership Volunteers in Medicine of Monroe County, the only nonprofit free health clinic in Bloomington and the surrounding area, will soon join HealthNet, a network of patient-governed federally qualified health centers in Marion County, to become the Bloomington Family Health and Dental Center. Operational support for this merger will come from a New Access Point (NAP) grant recently announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
For more than 12 years Volunteers in Medicine has provided free primary care, mental health, and dental services to uninsured and medically underserved residents of Monroe and Owen counties. “VIM has, from the beginning, served as the only safety-net clinic in Monroe County, providing a place for anyone falling through the cracks of the medical system to receive free care. However, the environment has changed dramatically from when the clinic was opened in 2007. Now more people are insured rather than uninsured. In addition, it has become increasingly difficult to raise sufficient funding to sustain clinic operations,” explains Nancy Richman, VIM Executive Director. Richman explains that she and the board of directors have been exploring the possibility of becoming a federally qualified health center for the past two years. “We are thrilled to become part of HealthNet. Like VIM, HealthNet clinics provide high-quality, caring and compassionate healthcare regardless of ability to pay.”
Since 1968, HealthNet has improved the health status of Indianapolis’ inner-city neighborhoods by making quality health services accessible to everyone – regardless of ability to pay. HealthNet annually provides affordable health care to nearly 61,000 individuals through its network of seven primary care health centers, four dental clinics, pediatric/adolescent care center, OB/GYN care center, nine school-based clinics, and community support services, including WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), the Healthy Families perinatal home visitation program, and the Homeless Initiative Program. The latter program provides services in eight shelters as well as transitional housing sites.
“We were honored when VIM approached us about collaborating and look forward to working with the VIM team to improve much-needed access to care. The outpouring of community support during the grant application process was amazing. By partnering together, the new community health center will expand the range of primary care, dentistry and behavioral health services that VIM currently offers, as well as expand access to all ages and all people, regardless of ability to pay,” said Rick Diaz, HealthNet’s President/CEO.
Federally Qualified Health Centers are community-based health care clinics that receive funds from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Health Center Program to provide primary care services in medically underserved areas. These federally-supported clinics must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care to all persons regardless of the ability to pay, and operating under a governing board that includes patients.
FQHCs must provide patients with access to an array of required services - either onsite or through collaborative agreements - in order to integrate primary and preventive care, dental health, mental health, substance use, and vision care, with patient support services such as medical transportation, insurance enrollment, social work, and health education. The primary difference between VIM and an FQHC is that the FQHC serves patients without and with insurance, adults and infants, children, teens, and seniors. “Becoming a clinic under the HealthNet umbrella will, essentially, continue the VIM clinic, but on steroids. We’ll have a new name, a new logo, a reconfigured facility, and some new faces in order to expand our services. But our patients will recognize everyone they are used to seeing - people who remain passionately committed to the mission of serving the underserved,” says Richman. “Like the redesign of a cereal box – new look, same great taste!”
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the approval of the Medicaid alternative, Healthy IN Plan, many former VIM patients became insured and were transferred to new providers that accepted insurance. However, Richman points out that when people living in poverty or otherwise lacking in resources become insured, they are still living in poverty with all of the issues that exacerbate their medical issues, such as inadequate housing, unemployment, lack of child care or transportation, or access to healthy food.
These days, even people experiencing homelessness are typically insured. Further, people experiencing homelessness, who often struggle not only with poverty but countless other challenges and disabilities, also struggle to access quality health care outside of the emergency room. They can miss or arrive late to appointments, which can lead to being terminated from care. They sometimes have behavioral issues that a typical healthcare provider doesn’t know how to handle. And they always lack in financial capacity. Other people become insured and if they miss a power account payment can be kicked off of their insurance and locked out for six months. With a merger of VIM into HealthNet, the new clinic will provide access to primary care, dentistry, and behavioral health services for all people, all ages, whether insured, underinsured, or not insured at all.
Currently, the closest FQHCs to Monroe County are the Indiana Health Center in Spencer, Windrose Health Network in Trafalgar, and the Southern IN Community Health Center in Paoli. The HealthNet Bloomington Family Health and Dental Center will be the first in Monroe County.
“Transitioning VIM into one of the HealthNet FQHCs to serve low-income and underserved individuals in Monroe County and beyond has the potential to be one of the most important and transformative solutions to this community’s critical health challenges since the opening of VIM 12 years ago. It’s an exciting time,” Richman comments.