Free clinic serves uninsured

Dr. Robert Boone of Urbana advises treatment for a patient, seen by Illinois medical student Graham Huesman at the Champaign County Christian Health Center Wednesday night. I like teaching, explains Dr. Boone, who oversees treatment at the Center in th Adam Babcock

Dr. Robert Boone of Urbana advises treatment for a patient, seen by Illinois medical student Graham Huesman at the Champaign County Christian Health Center Wednesday night. “I like teaching,” explains Dr. Boone, who oversees treatment at the Center in th Adam Babcock

By Kelly Fugo

With the help of two medical students, uninsured and underserved people in the Champaign County area are getting the care they need.

Since September 2003, University medical students Dipesh Navsaria and Chris Erb have rallied fellow medical students to volunteer for an independent, free clinic called HeRMES, which stands for Helping Revitalize Medical Education through Service. The clinic is addressing some of the health care needs of the local uninsured population.

“The number one problem, I think, in our country is access to health care, especially in Champaign-Urbana,” said Dr. Robert Boone, a volunteer supervising physician with the clinic. “And that’s why I’m here with HeRMES – as a way for people who have no insurance to get access to health care.”

Ellisia Jones, a new patient from Urbana, said she appreciated the cost-free care that the clinic provided.

“They get you right in, too,” Jones said. “Other clinics have a month or longer wait.”

In late September and early October of this year, volunteers saw approximately 150 children for school physicals over three separate nights. The volunteers, along with volunteers from school district offices and the public health department, provided physicals, hearing and vision testing and immunizations.

These children would not have been allowed back in school on Oct. 15 without a valid physical, said Navsaria, founder and executive director of the clinic.

“It turned out that no one really realized, until almost the last minute, that there were about 600 kids in town that didn’t have their physicals done,” said Erb, associate director of the clinic.

The clinic performed more school physicals than any other single group. Because the clinic had developed a solid organization and reliable volunteers, Navsaria and Erb were able to work with school administrators to respond quickly to the demand.

Navsaria got the idea to a start a clinic in May 2003 when he saw two converging needs: the need for health care providers to assist the uninsured, and the need for medical students to gain experience working with uninsured patients in a primary care setting.

The clinic holds regular hours from 6-9 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Champaign County Christian Health Center, 1512 W. Anthony Dr., Champaign.

The group uses a “clinic-within-a-clinic” model. Volunteers do not have a physical building, but they partner with Champaign County Christian Health Services and use their facilities and equipment.

“We partner with other groups that have resources, have equipment, have referral networks, have all these sorts of things that are necessary, but the one thing they’re missing is health care providers,” Navsaria said.

The clinic has received several small grants to help pay for administrative costs as well as some medical supplies. Costs are low because the volunteer physicians that provide free service at an established, free clinic are exempt from malpractice coverage under the Good Samaritan Act, he said.

The clinic is comprised of approximately 25 medical students, four volunteer physicians and eight undergraduates. On a given night, the clinic has about five medical students, one volunteer physician and two undergraduates. Volunteers see up to 18 patients a night.

Most medical student volunteers are in their third or fourth year of medical school and must have completed certain clinical rotations to be able to work with patients. Based on their qualifications, they are either classified as junior or senior students. Junior students check in patients and record vital signs, basic history and the chief complaint of the patient. Senior students follow up on the chief complaint, give physical exams and discuss a diagnosis and treatment plan with the physician. A volunteer licensed physician is present during every clinic and approves all treatments.

Matt Hartman, a fourth-year medical student, has volunteered as a senior student with the clinic for the last year.

“It’s absolutely great learning, and I think that, at least my experience has been, it forces me to think about things because I’m the one coming up with the plan,” Hartman said.

Navsaria and Erb have both won awards for their contributions. Navsaria recently received the Campus Award for Public Engagement from the University for establishing and running the clinic. Erb received the Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship from the American Association for Medical Colleges for both his work in running the clinic and his work as a graduate student.