Headquartered at the Neighborhood Fellowship Church on the Indianapolis near eastside, the clinic offers free primary care to the area’s underserved and uninsured. The surrounding community contains approximately 15,000 homes, with 50 percent of residents living at or below the poverty level. Not surprisingly, medical services can be spotty, due to everything ranging from lack of insurance to transportation.
The seed for the facility was planted in 2008, during the darkest days of the Great Recession. Dr. Javier Sevilla-Mártir, Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Director for Hispanic Health and Global Health in the IU Department of Family Medicine, struck up a friendship with James Strietelmeier, pastor of the Neighborhood Fellowship Church. The activist minister had turned his place of worship into a de facto community center, offering everything from a clothing bank to free Sunday dinners, which led Sevilla-Mártir to ask if they might have room for one more community project.
“I said, ‘Hey Jim, what do you think about having a student-run free clinic in this church?’” Sevilla-Mártir recalled. “He couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘We have been praying for this for 12 years.’”
The IU Student Outreach Clinic came to fruition shortly after this conversation and has developed into a successful program that truly assists the community.
The IUSOC sees patients every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Treatment is overseen by IU faculty, but most of the clinic’s day-to-day operations are handled by boards composed of student volunteers. There’s a myriad of university departments and outside agencies contributing to the project, including IU School of Nursing, IU School of Medicine, Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, IU School of Dentistry, IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Science Department of Physical Therapy, the University of Indianapolis Krannert School of Physical Therapy, Department of Occupational Therapy, IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Indiana Legal Services, and IU School of Social Work.
Jason W. White, fourth-year medical student and 2014 Medical Board Chair of the IU Student Outreach Clinic, says he “got hooked” by the project as a first-year student. The early years of medical school are mostly filled with book learning, but he longed for a chance to help patients. White said. “I volunteered and I really loved it and I kept going back. I’d love to continue working with the underserved. I could even see myself working in a clinic like this, where I could really do some good.”
Dental work also plays a big part in the clinic – so big, in fact, that dentistry students operate from a separate location a few blocks from the Neighborhood Fellowship Church and offer services every-other-Saturday which include, among other things, free cleanings, filling and extractions for roughly two-dozen patients.
“I feel that we’re really developing a dental home for the community,” said Virginia Young, fourth-year dental student and the clinic’s Student Chair. “We’re seeing a lot of patients come back for continued care. One of the most rewarding aspects is relieving people of pain, either with a filling or a tooth extraction. Relieving pain is wonderful.”
There’s already anecdotal evidence that IUSOC care is both improving community health and cutting medical expenses. Pastor Strietelmeier reported that before the clinic opened, he found himself shuttling parishioners to receive medical attention frequently and since the clinic arrived he has only had so two or three times.
For the community, the benefits of the clinic go far beyond affordable medical care. Sevilla-Mártir thinks it also reassures residents that they have a lifeline to get help, and gives them a chance to build relationships and friendships with the young professionals staffing the facility.
Sevilla-Mártir would also like to see the clinic concept expand its geographic reach by opening other Indianapolis facilities. And why stop there? The South Bend and Terre Haute satellite IU campuses have already set up their own, and Bloomington is looking into the idea. Sevilla-Mártir would like to see one at every IU-affiliated campus around the state.
“So now we just wish and hope that one day all nine campuses will have a student clinic,” Sevilla-Mártir said. “Expansion is the main plan for the future.”