HIS And The Blues

July 30, 2008
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At Health Intervention Services, there’s no shortage of people coming through the doors for low-cost care from a doctor or dentist.  But HIS doesn’t see many dollars following them in.

HIS, at the corner of Andre Street and South Division Avenue, serves low-income patients, who pay on a sliding scale, said Executive Director Sylvia Daining. That covers about 15 percent of the organization’s costs.

For the rest, the faith-based clinic runs on the goodwill of financial supporters and volunteers.

So Daining was delighted that HIS was among 42 free clinics in the state — 11 in the western region — to share $1 million in annual grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. It was the fourth year for the grants. The clinic will use $22,439 to cover operations, an aspect of nonprofit reality that doesn’t often receive donor attention, she said.

HIS used last year’s BCBSM grant to set up a dental clinic, which now sees 125 patients per month, said Dr. John Vander Kolk, the staff dentist. He’s helped by four dentists and eight dental assistants and hygienists, all volunteers.

Dentists are difficult to find for the uninsured or those with Medicaid, so BCBSM this year concentrated grants on free clinics with dental services, said Jeff Connolly, president of West Michigan Operations for the state’s largest insurer.

HIS also provides medical services to about 600 patients per month, with medical director Dr. Laura Vander Molen working with a cadre of 22 physician volunteers in primary care and several specialties. Some 60 percent of HIS patients are Hispanic, and many of the staff members and volunteers are bilingual.

“The need is right here in our community,” said Dr. James Samuelson, chairman of the HIS board of directors and a physician for West Michigan’s largest group, Michigan Medical PC. He’s been a volunteer since the clinic’s inception 10 years ago.

“This allows me to use my skills to help those in need. And it’s more than just medical care. It’s connecting with these people, getting involved in their lives, impacting them and their social problems. We just want to be here for them in whatever way we can serve them.”

BCBSM found itself defending the community benefit it provides in exchange for nonprofit, tax-favored status during the state Senate’s review this year of bills it had proposed to alter the individual insurance market.

“One thing that distinguishes Blue Cross from other insurance companies is our unique social mission,” Connolly said in announcing the West Michigan grants, calling free clinics “a safety net for the uninsured of the state.”

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