By Matthew Harris
Barbara Haehner’s early retirement only lasted two weeks. It ended 10 minutes after the nephrologist sent an e-mail to the Heart and Soul Clinic.
On that night in late 2015, representatives from a local faith-based food pantry had spoken at her church. They also mentioned adding free medical care—a service Haehner knew would be complex. It got her thinking. What other free clinics operated in the area? So she poked around the web and fired off messages to three places she found.
A reply popped into her inbox. Heart and Soul didn’t just need volunteers, it read. The clinic, based in Westfield, Indiana, a suburb north of Indianapolis, also needed a medical director.
“It just sort of fell into my lap,” said Haehner, a 1989 graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Almost two years later, the clinic’s clientele has grown six-fold, tacking toward 800 patient visits this year. Appointments, available every Wednesday night and two Saturday mornings each month, are filled a month in advance. “We’re maxed out,” Barb said.
The challenge of meeting demand is a far cry from the one she faced when she showed up her first day. Back then, her tasks weren’t glamorous. She rewrote and revised protocols. She overhauled the clinic’s credentialing system for volunteers, ensuring it qualified for its government-backed malpractice insurance. And the job of maintaining compliance with HIPAA and OSHA regulations is constant.
“All those things weren’t necessarily in place when I first came to the clinic,” said Haehner, who spent the bulk of her career on staff at Indiana Kidney Specialists.
At the same time, the clinic has also added services. There are two dental chairs where patients have cavities fixed or get emergency extractions done. The clinic runs a childhood vaccine program for uninsured families, and it takes referrals from local school systems. And, just recently, it acquired an RV to start a mobile clinic.
Yet Haehner and the clinic face a constant question: Can its operations expand anymore?
“We’d love to open another clinic another night of the week,” she said said. “But we’d have trouble with fully staffing.”
Heart and Soul’s clientele is diverse. It serves undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, the latter of whom can only access emergency Medicaid. The clinic’s largest block is the working poor, whose minimum-wage jobs often come without insurance or whose policies are too costly.
Even in an upper-middle-class suburb, there are seemingly stable families whose insurance comes with high-cost deductibles. For them, out-of-pocket costs can be astronomical. For example, they may pay up to $300 for antibiotics to treat a child’s case of strep throat. “There’s need everywhere,” Haehner said.
A majority of the clinic’s $140,000 budget is funded by seven grants and is poured into operating costs. Haehner’s new task is to find more volunteers—physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses—willing to give time to expand the clinic’s hours of operations.
No doubt, some of her days are long. Stress taxes her. But Barb’s faith and the clinic’s growth are signs that the call she felt to give back was a divine one.
“It was like I was supposed to do this,” she said. “They needed someone just like me. All of the pieces just fit together.”
If you’d like to learn more about Heart and Soul Clinic and volunteer opportunities, please visit www.heartandsoulclinic.org.