OSKALOOSA — After providing basic medical services in Oskaloosa since 1994, advisory board members of the Oskaloosa Free Clinic announced that Tuesday, May 3, would be the free clinic’s last day.
“It’s really brought out a lot of mixed emotions,” said Dr. Matt Whitis, volunteer medical director of the Oskaloosa Free Clinic (OFC) and longtime
volunteer physician. “But at the end of the day, everyone involved in making this clinic possible can feel great pride in knowing that we have fulfilled our mission.
“We started the Free Clinic as a way to better serve patients without insurance or other means of health coverage. We had a fairly substantial number of people falling between the cracks and healthcare services were not accessible, so we felt a real need to help. Many on IowaCare insurance had a lack of transportation but were forced to get their services at Broadlawns or Iowa City, which means they could not access medical services locally without a free clinic. However, as the healthcare landscape nationally and in the state has changed in recent years, we came to realize that we have fulfilled our original mission,” Dr. Whitis stressed.
“With the creation of the Health Insurance Marketplace, there is now easier access to healthcare and no exemptions for pre-existing conditions. We also have Medicaid expansion coverage which allows patients to seek care closer to home; so the volume of individuals seeking the service in Oskaloosa has been greatly reduced.”
As a frame of reference, in 2012 the OFC had 269 visits. In 2013, total visits equaled 191; in 2014, that number dropped to 80; and in 2015, the clinic
had only 30 visits.
“From our standpoint, this is very good news because it means people are connected with a primary care provider and able to obtain their medical care on a more regular basis,” Dr. Whitis said.
Given the reduced number of patients needing its services and the limited number of volunteers available to staff the clinic, the board determined that
the OFC no longer has sustainability.
Dr. Whitis said volunteers are doing their best to make sure the few remaining patients of the OFC have their medical needs met in this transition.
“We sent letters to our patients encouraging them to have their on-going prescriptions refilled. Our volunteer provider will extend, as appropriate, a prescription for needed medications,” he said.
According to Dr. Whitis, refills will be available for patients per the prescription provided, although those filled after May 31 will be at the patient’s
“It’s important to remember that most all of the prescriptions provided through the free clinic are from the reduced cost, generic medication list as an
effort to keep costs reasonable. Patients are encouraged to seek out a primary care provider with whom they can establish an on-going relationship.”
In their mailing to patients, volunteers from the OFC included a list of other members of the Free Clinics of Iowa Network that are nearby in Pella, Knoxville, Grinnell and Ottumwa in the event the patient is not able to get established with a new provider right away.
“We had volunteers attend our clinics to help inform patients about the healthcare marketplace, and there are currently Certified Healthcare Marketplace Specialists at Mahaska Health Partnership who can assist anyone for free with researching the best healthcare plan for them and their
families,” Dr. Whitis stressed.
As one of the earlier volunteer physicians and a driving force behind the OFC, Dr. Whitis said its greatest strength has always been the volunteers who made the clinic possible.
“We were able to get volunteer doctors and nurse practitioners, as well as nurses, clerical and other volunteers who worked all day at their jobs and either stayed or came back to work several more hours on their own time to help those in need,” he explained.
“While many free clinic volunteers worked at MHP, it has never been affiliated with the hospital and remained part of the Free Clinics of Iowa. However, MHP strongly supported our mission and through their support, our clinic was stronger. We are thankful to everyone, including those who made financial contributions to the free clinic, for helping us achieve our long-term mission,” he concluded.
Story provided by the Oskaloosa Herald