COLUMBIA — After just six months of operation, a free medical clinic run by MU medical students finds its services in such great demand, it's considering expanding its hours.
The clinic opened in October at 400 Wilkes Blvd., behind Hickman High School, in response to the need so many Boone County residents have for primary health care, said Erik Lindbloom, an associate professor of family and community medicine at MU and one of MedZou's faculty advisers. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, there were more than 20,000 uninsured in Boone County in 2007. While no firm numbers were available for Boone County in 2008, the number of uninsured is rising statewide and nationally.
“We’re trying very hard — because we’re still very new — to make sure we don’t get overwhelmed in the beginning,” said Mark Sims, one of MedZou's student directors. “If we weren’t trying our hardest to control the numbers, we could have 50 people there a night and have to turn away 40 of them.”
Natalie Abert, another student director at MedZou, agreed that it was important the clinic not take on more than it could handle.
“We’re trying to start small because we don’t want to get overwhelmed, but our goal is really to serve this group of people,” Abert said.
The clinic is open on Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m., and generally schedules 12 to 14 patients for those hours. The clinic can occasionally see walk-ins, but the clinic is booked most of the time, Sims said.
Expanding hours would give the clinic more flexibility and capacity for scheduling appointments, which would be another way to reach uninsured patients, Lindbloom said.
“We’ve had 100 visits since opening in October, so I think the demand is there," Lindbloom said.
In the past, uninsured patients were sent to the Family Health Center, 1001 W. Worley St., for primary care. Until recently, the center had a waiting list, which made it difficult for some patients to get in.
Gloria Crull, executive director of the center, said she has noticed an increased need for free primary care in Columbia. She said the center has been scheduling more new patients, and she attributes that to the economy.
Some patients can't even afford the $20 co-pay the center charges, and those patients are now being referred to MedZou, Sims said.
“We get patients who are, in a sense, the worst off,” Sims said.
Aside from the referrals, there are others who just appear. “Sometimes we have people just sort of show up on a Thursday," Sims said "We’re usually lucky and have room for them, or we can schedule them in the future, so we haven’t had to turn anyone away yet.”
MedZou is still in the discussion stage about expanding its hours. Medical students are expected to benefit in addition to patients.
"There's such a good energy when you're there and you are seeing that these people's needs are being met ... " Abert said. "It is a really great eye-opening experience for students to see this need and see that you can make a difference."