Karissa Howell sometimes has odd questions for the patients of Abundant Resources Health Clinic at the Eurma Hayes Center in Carbondale.
Address the patient by name, she asked, “How many are you planning on having for thanksgiving dinner?”
“It’ll probably be just the two of us,” the woman replied, a little startled by the question.
“Well,” Karissa explained, “One of the churches is thinking about putting together some baskets, with a turkey or a ham, some canned vegetables and may be some potatoes. Does that sound like something you might like?’
Karissa is the clinic’s executive director and has been since before it saw its first patient in December, 2000. But she is just one of the many women who are the heart and soul of the free health clinic.
Cheryl Schmit, who is a retired pharmacist from SIUC, is another of the many faces the patient’s recognize and who recognizes them back. Cheryl helps to operate the dispensary at the clinic, allowing patients to pick up prescriptions at no cost as well. She is also a member of the board of directors and the treasurer for the clinic.
With Karissa, and Cheryl, one part-time patient care coordinator and the volunteer doctors and nurses, the clinic has seen about 1,500 patients since opening its doors and averages 80 patients a month, depending on doctors’ schedules and availability.
They provide free primary care for those who qualify and some prescriptions, depending on availability. The clinic receives free prescriptions from area doctors and from pharmaceutical sales representatives who operate in the area. They also spend about $2000 a month on prescription drugs to distribute. “That becomes about $7,000 or $8,000 going out the door,” Karissa said.
And, it means a lot of Jackson County residents who were going without their medications and skipping seeing a doctor in order to save money are now getting the treatment they need. The clinic is the ultimate example of how a community can work together when it sees a need.
In 1999, a group of community residents and a group of members of the medical community got together to discuss a common problem. Doctors were seeing people come to their office with no ability to pay for the visit or the medication or seeing them show up in the emergency with preventable illness that had gotten out of hand due to lack of care.
Community members were seeing friends and neighbors going without medications because they could not afford the doctor’s bills of the $2 for cold medicine, Karissa said.
The two groups worked together, joined forces with the SIUC School of Medicine faculty at the Carbondale campus and formed a 13 member board of directors and incorporated as a not for profit organization. The board of directors has representatives from local churches, doctors, nurses, a community representative from Murphysboro and one from Carbondale, a representative of Jackson County Public Health Department and from the Jackson county Housing Authority.
Though the clinic is completely freestanding they then approached the local medical community, including Southern Illinois Healthcare and Shawnee Health Services. SIH agreed to provide laboratory and imaging services for clinic patients. Shawnee Health helps with administrative tasks, and, they needed help from local specialists.
In most any specialty, the clinic has an agreement with some local doctor to provide at least some level of care for clinic patients. Most waive the cost of the first visit completely and then make payment arrangements with the patients, a bit of a rarity in the profession. “Many specialists won’t evens even you if you don’t walk in the door with Medicaid, Medicare or the ability to pay them right then,” Karissa said. “We feel very fortunate to have doctors that do see our patients.”
The board of directors saw the need for both regular health care and prescription assistance as most of these people could not afford medications, she said. So, they got a dispensary as well, with the ability to give medication out by prescription to patients so long as a registered pharmacist or doctor is on the premises to oversee the dispensary. That’s where Cheryl comes in.
Cheryl was a full-time pharmacist for the SIU Student Health services until December 2006. Now, she keeps the books and helps dispense medications.
The clinic provides care for those who don’t qualify for state assisted health care in one form or another and are at or below 150 percent poverty level. That means a family of four can make about $2600 per month, before taxes.
The clinic raises nearly $140,000 a year for operating expenses with major fund-raisers including the Taste of Jackson County and a spring trivia night and in the fall or early winter they have a fundraising drive letter-writing campaign. But that accounts for less than half of their total budget. The rest of the budget comes from in-kind donations, like the professional staff time, lab services from SIH, printing and office supplies from Henry Printing and more.
The clinic has about 80 volunteers in the summer and almost double that while SIU is in session. Volunteers come from almost every part of the SIU population including first year medical students, social work and psychology students; even the aviation department has provided a volunteer.
Volunteers work under Karissa supervision to help with everything from mailing lists to new patient screening. Many of the volunteers and most of the professional staff volunteers as well, are women. “Six of my nine volunteers tomorrow are women,” Karissa said.
The clinic is open from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and then has clinic hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays after their doctor for the day finishes with his or her regular patients and regular office hours.
While the clinic was begun primarily to meet patient’s medical needs, they have witnessed additional needs and worked to fill the gap. They have a part-time patient care coordinator who meets with patients to determine if there are other services that they might need, help with housing, food, clothing or whatever and help direct them to those resources.
And, one of the needs the staff identified and gently promotes is its hygiene closet. “If you don’t have a $1 to spend on a box of cold medicine, you probably also don’t have the money to buy personal hygiene items. Things like toilet paper usually get bought, usually, but what about things like laundry soap or shampoo?” Karissa said.
To that end, the clinic has developed a hygiene closet to help patients with those needs. “We don’t do food or clothing. We wouldn’t want to step on the toes of the food pantries or Good Samaritan House,” she said.
But they do sometimes pass on the names of people in need to local churches and civic organizations and are sometimes approached by those groups who are looking for a way to reach out to the less fortunate. “Right now, Walnut Street Baptist Church has asked me if we have any patients who need a Thanksgiving basket. So, I ask,” Karissa said.