Since the closing of the Huntington Free Health Clinic in June of 2017, low-income people in Huntington County who do not have health insurance have had to go out of the county to receive health care. Some just went without. But a partnership with local ministry Love In the Name of Christ and Matthew 25 Health & Dental Clinic in Fort Wayne will allow folks to receive the care they need via cutting-edge technology.
Brad Isbister, medical director of Matthew 25, says changes in medical care in the region caused the clinic to look for ways to help those in counties outside Allen County who did not have access to the free healthcare they need.
“As hospitals and medical practices have consolidated over time, a lot of the providers that had been at the Huntington County hospital and Huntington County medical society were moving out of town, and so it became a little more difficult to maintain staffing at the Huntington Free Clinic throughout the week,” he explains. “Matthew 25 realized that we can’t keep telling people to call this county clinic or call that county clinic, because county clinics are not open and are closing, so we changed our charter to cover all of northeast Indiana and four adjacent counties in Ohio.”
Matthew 25’s medical staff now sees and treats patients in a total of 15 counties, including Huntington County, with a telemedicine examination room set up at Love INC. There, patients can talk one-on-one with a physician at Matthew 25 via a live chat on the Internet. The office has an electronic tablet that connects patients with care providers in Fort Wayne. Currently the clinic has about one to three patients per week who take advantage of the telemedicine clinic program.
Prior to seeing the doctor they can be weighed, have their vitals and blood pressure checked and other tests done in the office with assistance by Kelley Miller of Love INC, who is a registered nurse. Then they go online to meet with the doctor.
“When people come in, they manage some of the paperwork and stuff, so medical care comes from coming here, and Kelley can see them walking in the room and kind of get a sense of their physical strength and therapy,” Isbister says. “I get the television review on a Surface tablet screen, and we go back and forth with that.
Miller, who is also the Love INC food pantry coordinator, says she is excited about using her skills to help people achieve better health. She already knows many of the people who take advantage of the clinic.
“I love being in people’s lives on a daily basis, and a lot of times people need care beyond what they get in a hospital or the doctor’s office,” she says. “They need somebody to help walk them through daily care, so I get to be a part of their life on a regular basis and not just that 48-hour stay in a hospital, or a half hour there in a doctor’s office.”
After the office visit has concluded, Matthew 25 will mail the medications their patients need directly to their homes, Isbister says. The benefits of mailing the meds is that prescriptions can be more conveniently refilled, encouraging patients to take their medicine on a consistent basis. Patients can also be referred on to specialists if warranted.
Isbister hopes to obtain a grant to pay for a digital stethoscope for the Huntington office so doctors can listen to patients’ hearts and lungs through the Internet connection. He also hopes to procure a small refrigerator to use for medicines and storing test samples. Matthew 25 also accepts donations of medical devices such as crutches, braces, walkers and wheelchairs, which it passes along to patients who need them.
Treatment through the Love INC telemedicine clinic is for chronic illness only, such as high blood pressure, asthma, COPD, headaches, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. Wound care management is also available. However, acute illnesses such as flu are not treated by Matthew 25 via telemedicine.
Doctors can also write lab or X-ray orders for their telemedicine patients, who will go to Parkview Huntington Hospital to get the tests done.
“The patients travel shorter distance; the mail gets all their refills to them without having to do the travel, and there’s a kind of familiar place to take advantage of all the connections and goodwill that Love INC has,” Isbister adds. “It was still really difficult, even from Huntington, to drive 50 minutes, check in, and wait around for a 20 minute to an hour visit, then drive back, particularly when income and job and transportation are tenuous. …
“In a lot of ways, this is the hottest thing in medicine, for the fact that we’re actually starting here. It means that a lot of patients are getting better care, or exceptional care.”
Love INC’s Executive Director Logan Patterson says the telemedicine clinic dovetails with the organization’s mission to mobilize local churches and transform lives and communities in the name of Christ.
“It makes good sense,” he says. “Part of the reason we have a food pantry next door is it simply seems like better stewardship and better resources than for every one of the 80 churches in Huntington County to have a food pantry. We’re able to put everyone together in unity for that, we’re able to have someone like Kelley on staff to make sure it runs efficiently well, and now with the telemedicine clinic we have someone like Kelley who just happens to have a medical background and can be there and oversee that.”
To qualify for the program, adults who are residents of Huntington County must have no health insurance and have a household income at or greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The clinic does not see children.
To make an appointment, call Matthew 25 Health & Dental Clinic at 469-0474 ext. 254 and ask for an appointment at the Love INC telemedicine office.