A low-cost health care clinic in Goshen, Ind., has come up with a business plan that allows patients to pay for treatment with something other than money. At the Maple City Health Care Center, patients can help pay off their medical bills by performing community service.
Last fall, when the unemployment rate in Elkhart County, Indiana, topped 10 percent, clinic workers began noticing that patients weren't showing up for appointments. Turns out they couldn't even come up with a few bucks for an office visit.
So James Gingrich, the clinic's medical director, decided to tap his patients' skills and resources instead. The clinic began offering $10 an hour toward health care if a patient volunteered at another non-profit organization.
Stephany Celis, new mom to son Bradon Alexander, wondered how, without health insurance, she would pay for her prenatal care seven months ago. That's when she heard about the clinic's More Than Money program.
Celis volunteered at a low-cost health care agency to pay for all of her prenatal care.
"If I have a chance to go back in the future, I probably will," Celis says.
Just down the street from the clinic, 35-year-old Maria Arellano is volunteering by restocking locally grown organic apples in the produce section at a co-op. She says the More than Money program has been a lifeline.
"This program is really helpful to me because it allows me to pay for my diabetic care. And since my husband was laid off, and we don't really have any income, it really helps me to continue to get the care that I need," Arellano says through an interpreter.
And Arellano is not the only one thankful for the help. Co-op general manager Richard Elmore says that in addition to the work the volunteers do, they also provide another benefit.
"Since most of the volunteers that we get from Maple City Health Care Center are Latino, that helps add diversity to our store," Elmore says.
To date Arellano, Celis and about 33 other More Than Money participants have logged about 350 hours of community service.
Anita Monoian, who heads the National Association of Community Health Centers, says while most clinics try to help those struggling to pay their bills, Maple City's approach stands out.
"Most of the community health centers I know do some sort of trade or work program if the patients are interested in doing that, but I'm not aware of anybody else doing anything that structured," Monoian says.
Monoian says community health centers promise that no patient will be turned away because they can't pay. Still, she says the best thing about this program is that it helps both those receiving the assistance and those volunteering.
And Maple City Health Care Center patients can sleep easy, knowing they'll continue to get the treatment they need, no matter how they pay for it.