INDIANAPOLIS — The doors to the Neighborhood Fellowship Church are home to more than just a church and a school. Each Saturday, dozens of Hoosiers come through its doors for free health care.
It's a demand that's growing year after year, because here in America the number one reported cause of bankruptcies is medical bills.
How it started
In 2008, after the economic crisis, a doctor who is also a professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine decided the demand in Indiana for free health care was undeniable, so he launched a free medical clinic on the east side of Indianapolis.
"I first recognized that there were some needs that were not met in the community health-wise. And then learned that there were other places in the nation where they already had free clinics," said Dr. Javier Sevilla, professor of Clinical Family Medicine at the IU School of Medicine, who is also a physician.
Sevilla learned about the free clinics in San Diego and Sacramento, California.
"So I consulted to get the idea of how to do it. I had started a previous clinic in my home country of Honduras before I came to the United States, so I know more or less how to do it," he said.
As a professor at the IU School of Medicine, he "challenged the students at the time if they wanted to embark in the project and they were all ready," said Sevilla.
He said the students were hungry and ready to help.
"The need (of the community) was the main thing and then also giv(ing) the students an opportunity to serve and learn," said Sevilla.
Sevilla is a faculty founder, advisor and the clinical director for the IU Student Outreach Clinic. He said launching this clinic in 2009 allowed him to serve his two passions: teaching and community health.
"We can serve (the community) through our profession" as health professionals, he said.
How it works
The IU Student Outreach Clinic receives its funding through "grant writing and private donations," said Sevilla.
"And we have an average annual budget of $35,000 a year," he added. The clinic is able to keep its costs low because the entire medical staff is volunteer-based. Most of the health professionals on staff are students at the IU School of Medicine. Fourth-year medical student Mohammed Aref has been volunteering at the clinic for eight years while completing a PhD and M.D. at the IU Medical School. He is working to become a surgeon.
"In class and in the hospital, I get to learn how to be a doctor. And here I get to choose the definition of doctor that I want to be," said Aref.
The students are overseen by physicians whom they consult with about every patient.
"We provide a pharmacy, laboratory, physical therapy, occupational therapy, social services, a legal clinic or advice, all free," said Sevilla. Due to the pandemic, the health workers also see patients via telehealth.
Once a month, they also run an eye clinic and a women's health focused clinic said Sevilla.
Stephen Lecclier, who everyone knows as "Snoopy," is part of security at the clinic. While he has Medicare and Medicaid, he said he was able to get antibiotic cream for a rash and was also able to get his vision checked "they wrote me a prescription, I went to LensCrafters and didn't cost me anything," said Snoopy, holding up a pair of bifocals.
Even the medicine given out by the pharmacy is free to patients.
The clinicians said they have had a lot of patients return due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
"Due to financial instability, losing their job, and a lot of other stressors, they went from having insurance to needing free health again. It was very sad for us to see, but also devastating for our neighborhood and for our patients," said Aref.
There are about 40 clinics at the Neighborhood Fellowship Church every Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for the needs of their patients.
A lot of these patients are coming in for the same ailments one would typically see at an urgent care.
"Colds, exacerbations of season allergies, pain, injuries that we can manage medically or through physically therapy" or with a coordinated team approach said Sevilla.
They also see patients with chronic illnesses like "asthma, COPD, diabetes and hypertension," he added.
The goal with the chronic health condition is to keep patients out of the emergency rooms they can't afford.
"Diabetes can turn into diabetic ketosis and end up in a coma… hypertension can turn into a stroke," said Aref.
Sevilla said the IU Student Outreach Clinic's approach to stabilizing chronic health conditions produced results that were better than the national data for underserved communities.
Sevilla said he's grateful that the clinic will be in the wake of a recession that analysts predict will outweighs that of the 2008 crisis which prompted him to launch the clinic over a decade ago.
"It is wonderful to know that we have survived throughout 12 years. And specifically, we survived through the pandemic we managed to stay open. And the response from the community and organizations has been amazing. We have been able to fundraise to buy more medicine and to continue to provide the clinical and lab serves throughout (the pandemic)," said Sevilla.
How it's going
The IU Student Outreach Clinic "We saw the need for expansion after three years," said Sevilla.
More people started to come and if we see a patient, we'd rather see in three days we have to say, 'See you next Saturday,' and we still give them a call (in the meantime) but it's not the same," said Sevilla. But soon their patients will be able to visit them on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and the IU Student Outreach Clinic will be expanding to include a dental clinic. He said once it's open, they will assess what the needs of the community are and what additional days of clinical service they would include in the expansion of services.
The additional space is right across the street from the church and will give them the room they need to see the patients and house their complete staff of about 60.
"Having the space across the street will ease the burden of what we can do here in a given Saturday," said Sevilla.
Call to action from the community
The expansion plans across the street is a million-dollar project and they've already begun the space. Sevilla said he would love to be able to open the space across the street in the fall and needs $600,000 more from the community to reach the goal by autumn.
Through the expansion "of space and services we will be able to provide better follow up for these patients that will need it now and, in the future," he said.
Sevilla is passionate about meeting the needs of the underserved communities in his city.
"If we grow in need through another recession, we will be prepared," Sevilla said with confidence.
You can donate by visiting this link.
The IU Student Outreach Clinic is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on a first-come, first serve basis at the Neighborhood Fellowship Church at 3102 E. 10th St. Indianapolis, IN 46201.