Uptown's Neighborhood Involvement Program to stop seeing medical patients

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2014 - 11:27 PM

The Neigh­bor­hood In­volve­ment Program said fi­nan­cial troub­les are the root of its prob­lems.

A com­muni­ty med­i­cal clin­ic in up­town Minneapolis will stop see­ing pa­tients by the end of the week af­ter what its lead­ers de­scribe as “extra­ordi­nary fi­nan­cial” prob­lems brought on by the na­tion­al health care over­haul. Den­tal and men­tal health ser­vices will re­main open.

The Neigh­bor­hood In­volve­ment Program sent out a let­ter say­ing it had lost 30 percent of its pa­tients as a re­sult of the fed­er­al health care law, and in­clud­ed its man­dates for elec­tron­ic health re­cords in a list of rea­sons why the medical clin­ic would close. The nonprofit or­gan­i­za­tion also cited pa­tients not pay­ing bal­an­ces and donors delay­ing fund­ing de­ci­sions.

The main­stay at Hennepin Avenue and S. 24th Street has pro­vid­ed care for un­in­sured and under­insured peo­ple since 1972, rely­ing large­ly on vol­un­teer doc­tors and staff.

“Cer­tain­ly, these clin­ics that pro­vide care for free, or at a tre­men­dous­ly low cost to the pa­tients, are criti­cal,” said Jen­ni Bowr­ing-Mc­Do­nough, a spokes­wom­an for the state health in­sur­ance ex­change MNsure. More than 300,000 peo­ple in Minnesota have signed up through the state’s health in­sur­ance ex­change so far.

“There’s still going to be a need for care that’s af­ford­a­ble,” Bowr­ing-Mc­Do­nough said.

A study in Au­gust by the National Association of Free and Char­i­ta­ble Clin­ics found that 243,000 Min­ne­so­tans will re­main un­in­sured, even af­ter the fed­er­al in­sur­ance over­haul. The study cited un­doc­u­ment­ed im­mi­grants and peo­ple with­out trans­por­ta­tion or in ru­ral areas as some of the con­sum­ers who would go with­out in­sur­ance.

Neigh­bor­hood In­volve­ment Program CEO Patsy Bart­ley did not re­spond to mes­sages, but fi­nan­cial re­cords show the nonprofit lost $180,536 be­tween 2010 and 2012, the lat­est year for which num­bers were avail­able. That year, the program had 10,185 med­i­cal, den­tal and fam­i­ly plan­ning vis­its.

Un­til she land­ed a job with health in­sur­ance last year, Mag­gie Strugala went to the clin­ic for phys­ic­al exams, ear­aches, shots and oth­er bas­ic care af­ter leav­ing her par­ents’ med­i­cal in­sur­ance plan. The program typ­i­cal­ly charged $30 to $80 per vis­it, she said.

“If you couldn’t [pay], they would say, ‘Pay what you can’ and come back and fin­ish the pay­ment at any time, and that’s re­al­ly help­ful for a lot of peo­ple,” she said. “They don’t force it down your throat.”

Strugala said the clin­ic was “very much like a fam­i­ly, and I think [the program] has just been a staple of that for such a long time.”

Kelsey Weitzel said she was study­ing at Minneapolis Community & Technical College with no health in­sur­ance when she be­gan de­vel­op­ing symp­toms of dia­be­tes. The clin­ic di­ag­nosed her, set­ting her up with a diet­itian, giv­ing her regu­lar phys­ic­al exams and draw­ing blood.

“I think it’s a good thing that peo­ple are able to go else­where … but it’s aw­ful for the staff who have been there for so long, and they care so much,” Weitzel said. “It’s a loss of com­muni­ty.”

She’s still get­ting used to hav­ing her own health in­sur­ance through a job with the Minnesota Read­ing Corps.

When she walks into her new doc­tor’s of­fice, Weitzel said, “it doesn’t feel quite like home yet.”

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

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