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February 19, 2009 4:56 am

A night at the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic

Written by Tribune Staff

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Nurse practitioner student Whitney Hernandez listens to a patient's heart and lungs at the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic. Hernandez, a Powell native who lives in Denver, volunteers at the clinic when she comes home to visit her family. Tribune photo by Carla Wensky

As the sun sets in the winter sky, the Tuesday workday comes to an end for most people. Thoughts turn toward going home, fixing dinner, getting the kids to bed. But the night is just beginning at the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic.

At 5:15 p.m., an elderly couple arrives at the clinic carrying armloads of food: Carrot cake, a Crock-Pot of aromatic beef barley soup, a salad. Clinic director JoAnn Cozzens explains that, each month, a different local church provides food for the clinic volunteers.

At 5:20, the clinic begins to fill up — each Tuesday, there are close to a dozen people providing care at the clinic.

A young man, the evening's first patient, arrives. The receptionist greets him and explains he'll need to fill out several forms in order to determine his eligibility for treatment at the clinic.

Meanwhile, Cozzens shepherds the volunteers into a room on the east side of the building. She greets everyone, and a night at the clinic officially begins.

“This is kind of an unusual evening, to say the least,” she says. “We have the Powell Tribune here, along with Whitney Hernandez (a nurse practitioner student) and Dr. (Valerie) Lengfelder.”

She goes on to introduce the people gathered in the room. In addition to Hernandez and Dr. Lengfelder, there are two women working on patient eligibility, a greeter, two nurses, a nutritionist, a receptionist, the new-patient care coordinator and two women working in the clinic's pharmacy.

Dr. Nick Morris and his wife, Madelyn, a nurse, lead the group — the clinic was their brainchild, and one look at the couple reveals how they feel about the service the clinic provides for the community. Ed Wetzel, a representative of the local clergy and a member of the clinic's board, also is present.

He makes a few remarks and then begins the opening prayer.

“... Thank you for this place of healing ... and may the community continue to support this vital, vital, vital place,” he prays.

Dr. Morris follows Wetzel's prayer with the clinic's mantra. He concludes, looks up, smiling, and says, “That says it all, you bunch of healers.”

With that, the group disperses, each person going about his or her duties for the evening.

Hernandez, a Powell native, leans on the nurses' station, waiting for a patient. She says she is attending school in Denver, but she tries to time her visits home to coincide with Tuesday clinic nights.

“These guys are kind enough to let me come here,” she says.

The clinic averages around 10 patients per night, sometimes more. According to Madelyn Morris, “Our mission is to do comprehensive care, not just symptom-based (treatment).”

Morris says the people coming to the clinic often don't have the resources to access regular, preventative health care.

Ellen Burbank, a nutritionist who is volunteering at the clinic for the first time, is part of the clinic's new diabetes program.

According to Burbank, about 70 percent of the clinic's patients have diabetes with some type of complication.

“If you don't take care of the diabetes, you can't take care of anything else,” she says.

On this particular evening, Burbank will offer educational services, including nutritional and medication information, as well general disease-management tips.

In one-hour, personal sessions, she stresses diet, physical activity and stress management as the ways to best manage diabetes. She is scheduled to see three patients over the course of the evening.

Down the hall, the clinic's pharmacy offers free glucometers and testing strips, along with insulin and other medications. Prescriptions for medications not on hand at the clinic are filled at a discount by local pharmacies — patients pay for the meds with clinic vouchers, meaning they don't have any out-of-pocket expenses for these prescriptions.

By 6:30, seven people are seeking medical treatment at the clinic. The building is a-flutter with activity, and the volunteers are smiling.

“I've seen some great care here,” says Mary Jane See, an admissions clerk at the hospital who has volunteered every Tuesday since the clinic opened.

“I've seen some people who could hardly breathe or walk when they came in here. A couple months later, they're doing so much better. It's something that's very much needed.”

As the clinic's eligibility coordinator, See is responsible for making sure all patients meet eligibility requirements. She explains that the clinic will see everyone the first time, but they must bring all proof of eligibility to their second visit.

See adds, “I can count on one hand the number of people we've turned away.”

Dr. Morris shares a story that exemplifies how the clinic works: First a physician's assistant, then a doctor, picked up a sound in a woman's neck indicating she might have a blocked artery.

The hospital performed a CT scan at a significantly-reduced rate. The scan indicated the patient had a badly-clogged artery, which could have caused a stroke and possible loss of the use of her left arm.

Dr. Morris said he called a “very highly skilled surgeon” in Billings, and “he took it from there.”

Dr. Morris said the Montana doctor helped the patient negotiate St. Vincent Hospitals charity program, and the hospital wrote off most or all of the surgery bill. When the woman returned to Powell, she needed medication that cost $180 per month.

“She couldn't pay for it,” Dr. Morris said. “So an anonymous donor paid for it.”

That kind of care is the goal of the clinic.

By 7 p.m., eight more people sit in the waiting room, ready for medical care they couldn't get until now.

Clinic information

The Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic is located in Building B of the Powell Valley Clinic at 450 Mountain View St.

The clinic is open Tuesday from 5:30-9 p.m.

Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments are recommended to ensure a time slot.

Call 754-1142, or 1-800-428-1398 ext. 142, for an appointment or
more information.

The clinic will provide services for individuals who meet all of the following:

• Reside or work in the Big Horn Basin area of Wyoming.
• Have a gross income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
• Are uninsured.
• Do not qualify for any other program.