By Tim Johnson
COLUMBIA CITY — The Multi-County Medical Outreach Clinic in Columbia City needs a few more volunteers — doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and office support staff.
The clinic serves those who could be best described as “falling through the cracks” — they don’t qualify for assistance through the Affordable Care Act and don’t earn enough income to pay for private insurance.
Tucked away between State Road 9 and State Road 109 and U.S. 30 on Columbia City’s north side in a space made available by Parkview Whitley Hospital, Thomas Hayhurst, M.D., is the medical director and Margo Phillips, a registered nurse and member of St. Mary of the Angels Oratory at Big Long Lake, functions as the executive director.
Patients come from the surrounding counties and beyond — as far away as South Bend, and some from Michigan. “We don’t close our doors to anybody,” Phillips said.
Some patients, Phillips said, don’t have an income. “There are people who are homeless, living under bridges, in tents, in campers,” she noted.
Others have incomes, but either lost their insurance, or make less than $22,000 per year. Many are working people who only earn about $15,000 per year, Dr. Hayhurst noted.
The clinic is a walk-in clinic and operated the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, but the schedule varies with holidays in November and December — operating the second and third Thursdays. Dr. Hayhurst and Phillips hope to add additional days.
Dan would be a typical patient of the Multi-County Medical Outreach Clinic. Dan worked construction, and one day in 2009 after working in the hot sun for an entire day on a roof, his body broke down. After being unemployed, he started a masonry business and got back on his feet financially, but he didn’t have any insurance. After noticing shortness of breath, he was diagnosed with the respiratory illness COPD.
“I came in here, because it is a free health clinic,” Dan told Today’s Catholic. A series of tests discovered he had other health issues as well.
“They got me all checked out,” Dan said. “They were all on me about quit smoking cigarettes too.”
Phillips was able to enroll Dan into a smoking cessation program at Columbia City’s Parkview campus. But it was difficult. Still, Dr. Hayhurst and another clinic volunteer doctor, Dr. Terry Frederick, kept encouraging Dan to quit smoking.
The good news is Dan has quit smoking since July. “If it wasn’t for you people, I would be dead today,” Dan related. “So I love these guys. They are excellent people.”
The clinic served as a stepping stone medical alternative for Dan, who now qualifies for Medicare and Medicaid.
The clinic makes wellness education a focal issue and offers information sessions on diabetes, obesity, women’s health issues and smoking cessation.
Other community organizations and businesses assist the patients. Walgreens provides free flu shots. A representative from Brightpoint offers counseling if a patient is in danger of losing his home.
One of the clinic’s founders, the late Patricia Ruah, has a fund in her honor called the Patricia Ruah Patients’ Assistance Fund, which through grants, provides funds for patients who may not be able to afford medical attention.
Phillips noted that even though they are a small church, her home parish of St. Mary of the Angels at Big Long Lake offers one week’s tithe twice a year to the Patients’ Assistance Fund.
Phillips’ motto is “Give it back and pay it forward,” a motto echoed by other clinic volunteers who receive much from the clinic as well.
For years, volunteer Gary Terrell has functioned as office manager, scheduler and a former clinic board member. He estimates there are about 40 volunteers of which about 18 or 19 regularly volunteer at the clinic.
Volunteer Shirley Rucks, a parishioner of St. Paul of the Cross Church in Columbia City, checks patients in and files office work. After retiring from a successful career with General Motors, Rucks said, “I felt it was my need to give back to those in need.”
Sarah Mossburg, a nurse who works surgery at Parkview Whitley Hospital and also a clinic board member, told Today’s Catholic, “It’s my favorite thing I do. You feel the appreciation the people have for the services we are offering them.”
Mossburg often hears from patients that they would like the clinic to be open more days, and they would also like a dental clinic. “We have this need, and we really want to be able to meet that,” Mossburg said.
Phillips said, “If there is a group of Catholic doctors or nurse practitioners or any type of medical professionals that could give us four hours every three to six months, it would be amazing to have them come here and just deliver the care to the patients.”
Doctors and nurse practitioners that wish to volunteer should contact Dr. Hayhurst at 260-433-0057. Other medical professionals interested in volunteering should call Phillips at 260-564-1946.