Docs With Heart
A Middleton clinic provides specialty care for the area's uninsured
For patients without health insurance, a diagnosis of diabetes, neural disorder or chronic disease is not just a diagnosis. It means expensive follow-up tests, blood work and X-rays that many simply can’t afford.
Dean Foundation’s Benevolent Specialists Project, the only free specialist clinic in Wisconsin and staffed by retired docs, is looking to change that.
The BSP–Free Clinic, as it is known, opened its doors in 2001 and is unique in offering secondary-care services, such as internal medicine, orthopedics, neurology and endocrinology.
“What we are is a kind of niche,” says Dr. Paul Simenstad, BSP’s medical director and advisory board chairman.
To be eligible for BSP care, patients must be uninsured, not enrolled in other health programs like Medicaid, with incomes no greater than 185 percent of the poverty level (In 2007, the figure was about $38,000 for a family of four). No self-referrals or walk-ins are permitted; instead, after recognizing the need for further consultation, primary care doctors refer patients to the clinic for specialty opinions, lab work and X-rays.
Sadly, it’s often the uninsured who need specialty care the most, says Dan Muxfeld, fund development coordinator for the Dean Foundation.
“If you’re dealing with a population that’s underserved to begin with, there’s not a lot of preventive health care going on,” Muxfeld says. “By the time a primary-care physician sees these patients, they’re really ready for specialists, unfortunately.”
To make matters worse, government reimbursement for secondary or specialty care is extremely limited. “Follow the money,” Muxfield says. “It, for the most part, ends at primary care.”
That’s why BSP–Free Clinic services are so essential, with thirty-four all-volunteer physicians—as well as a staff of volunteer nurses, transcriptionists, translators and receptionists—to evaluate over one thousand referrals a year.
“The clinic would not be able to run without the help of the volunteers,” clinic coordinator Kathy Williams says. “It’s a great example of what people can do when they pull together.”
The program draws doctors from UW Hospital & Clinics, Meriter and Dean–St. Mary’s. “When we hear about a physician who’s retiring, we put in a phone call and see if they’re interested,” Simenstad says.
Although the Dean Foundation provides the BSP–Free Clinic with its Middleton office and four examination rooms, Simenstad stresses the importance of area hospitals, which supply many of the prescribed specialty procedures and lab tests free of charge.
“The hospitals have been very nice,” he says. “We want people to think of it as a city-wide volunteer program, not just a Dean program.”
The clinic is open Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and operates on an $80,000 annual budget. That money pays for the one-and-a-half employees who work part-time, with a little left over for rent. The rest of the operating costs are covered by donations of equipment, money and time. The clinic is not supported by tax dollars.
“A lot of our giving comes from physicians,” says Simenstad. “They have some understanding [and] empathy for a fledgling program like this.”
As the clinic grows, its volunteers and coordinators hope to get the word out about the services the BSP–Free Clinic provides.
“We need more advocacy for the good of those who may not have the same opportunities,” says Williams.
Volunteer work and philanthropy aside, it’s the human factor that draws physicians and others to the clinic.
“One of the most rewarding parts of the job is when you see people so appreciative when they leave the clinic,” Williams says. “They feel supported.”
To support the BSP–Free Clinic or learn more, call 827-2308 or visit dean.org.
Sarah Nance is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.