By Cara Aungst
POC Lab Coordinator Tiffany Walden with a patient. PHOTO: Centre Volunteers in Medicine.
Research says that your ZIP code is a better indication of your health than genetics. So it should come as no surprise that Centre County is one of the best places in Pennsylvania to live, health-wise. In fact, in the Robert Wood Johnson study on social, economic and environmental factors that influence health, Centre County ranks No. 2 in the state, behind only Chester County.
But what do those statistics mean for members of our community who struggle with basic needs — the 5.6% who have no health insurance? Centre Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM), with ongoing help from Mount Nittany Health — is making sure that Happy Valley’s most vulnerable populations have access to medical care, so that we can be healthier and stronger, together.
“Centre Volunteers in Medicine is a true and free clinic,” Executive Director Cheryl Jo White said. “And that means that we don’t have any program revenue and no one is billed for our services.”
The organization is focused on more than just meeting urgent medical issues. The team at CVIM provides wrap-around services to every person who walks in the door, assigning them a case worker and making sure the person has the help they need to get back to health — navigating insurance and housing concerns, along with access to healthy food and mental health support. “These are all social determinants of health,” White said.
And since CVIM doesn’t bill for services, White added that the organization relies on the community to keep it going. “Mount Nittany Health is our largest cash donor,” she said. “In addition to their financial donations, they also provide free, in-kind lab testing and diagnostics and house the CVIM internet servers at the hospital. They’ve been a great partner for many, many years.”
A hygienist volunteering time for Centre Volunteers in Medicine. PHOTO: Centre Volunteers in Medicine.
In addition to supplying lab and diagnostic services, Mount Nittany Health offers CVIM a robust prescription drug program by working with medical suppliers and enabling CVIM to purchase medication at cost and stretch its dollars. Importantly, Mount Nittany Health physicians provide volunteer services. In the years since the clinic opened, Mount Nittany Health has donated more than $7 million in cash and in-kind services.
“CVIM is a crucial community resource,” said Kathleen Rhine, CEO of Mount Nittany Health. “We are proud to partner with them to fulfill our mission of ‘healthier people, stronger community.’”
White said the results speak for themselves. “We had a patient referred to us from the hospital who needed care for uncontrolled diabetes. By working with our physicians and pharmacy, we were able to help him get his diabetes under control enough for him to move near his brother and get a job. It was a huge success story for him that he was able to go back to work.”
She added, “Another patient was referred to us from the emergency room with a behavioral health concern. We were able to provide wrap-around services to her, helping her apply for medical assistance [and] SNAP benefits, and access behavioral health care. She was not a patient of ours for very long, but we were able, by working with Mount Nittany Health, to get her the help she needed.”
White said reaching Centre County’s medically underserved is a personal mission. “Everywhere you turn, there is so much need. Some of it is well hidden, but it’s there. We try to just focus on one patient at a time, and know that we made a difference,” she said.
“No one should die in Centre County because they don’t have access to health care. That’s what keeps me going.”
Rhine agreed. “We have a 120-year legacy of care in our region. By improving access to health care for all, we believe we are making our whole community stronger.”
Cara Aungst writes about industry, innovation and how Happy Valley ideas change the world. She can be reached with story ideas and comments at Cara@AffinityConnection.com.