The Health Care Safety Net

County’s Employers Depend on Trinity Free Clinic for Their Workers

By Mike Corbett

As Hamilton County’s population continues to grow and the cost of living here continues to rise, there’s a growing concern about housing for the workforce. How do we accommodate wage earners who need half their income or more just to pay for a place to live?

Less talked about, but just as pressing, is their need for health care. The high cost of health insurance puts it out of reach for lower paid workers, so health care is often not available through their employers.

Increasingly, employers and their workers are relying on the Trinity Free Clinic in Carmel. Founded 18 years ago, the clinic bills itself as Hamilton County’s medical and dental safety net. It provides primary health care for qualifying Hamilton County residents free of charge. Last year, it served more than 3600 low income residents, a 59% increase in just two years.

Servant’s Heart

The clinic is run by nine paid professional staff and an army of 377 volunteer health care providers with a variety of backgrounds…everything from dental students to retirees, with both medical and non-medical skills. “One thing that all of our volunteers have in common is a servant’s heart,” says Executive Director Dina Ferchmin. “They come to work at Trinity in the evening after they have put in a hard day of work, or they will sacrifice their Saturday to care for our patients. I am most impressed by their dedication and love to those they serve.”

In order to qualify for services, workers must live in Hamilton County and meet specific income guidelines. The average patient comes from a family four and earns about $24,000 a year.

Joe Lazarra owns Joe’s Butcher Shop on Main Street in Carmel. “We've looked into providing health insurance for our full time employees,” he says, “but the costs are nearly $200,000 per year and that type of expense would not allow us to remain in business.” He offers additional wages or salary to help employees purchase insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act, but even with subsidies that insurance can be out of reach. He says some employees qualify for the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan, a low-cost insurance program, but that often leaves gaps, and that’s where Trinity steps in.

“The most common urgent care need for our employees is dental care,” says Lazarra. “An infection, abscess, or broken tooth can lead to missed days at work and not treating an ongoing infection can lead to bigger issues.”  He also praises Trinity’s health care navigation service, which helps workers find their best health care options.

Scott Heinemeyer, VP of Leadership and Development for Hittle Landscaping, a 45 year old Westfield company, discovered Trinity Free Clinic about a year ago. Hittle has 250 employees, many of whom earn $12.58/hour, which qualifies as low income at the clinic. The company refers its laborers to the clinic as their primary health care provider. Heinemeyer says it’s been a good fit. “We share similar core values,” he says. “It’s now a piece of our story, and shows that we are a company that cares about our employees.”

Dignity and Respect

Almost half of Trinity’s patients work in food service, retail, or construction. Noblesville residents are most likely to use the service, followed by Carmel, Westfield and Fishers. 60% of patients are foreign born, with most coming from Venezuela and Mexico and a surprisingly large percentage (6%) from Egypt. And it’s a godsend for the county’s elderly, as recounted in this letter of thanks from one patient: “I lost my husband to cancer and have no income except $1300/month social security. I also lost my HIP Plus 2.0 insurance when I turned 65. Medicare does not cover dental insurance and I am in desperate need. Your clinic is an answer to prayer and a blessing so that I will not lose my teeth.”

Operating on a $1.4 million budget, nearly half of Trinity’s revenue is in-kind, everything from medicine to rent. One third of their cash revenue is earned through annual events like the upcoming Run for Wellness, a 5,10, or 15K run on October 13 through Carmel neighborhoods on roads and trails.  The remaining two thirds is contributed by government, private donations, foundation grants and hospitals. 1.5% comes from churches.

Ferchmin says employees from 262 Hamilton County businesses used Trinity’s services in just the second quarter of this year. It’s clear the not for profit plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of the county’s workers. Asked if he feels an obligation toward Trinity, Hittle’s Heinemeyer says “It’s not an obligation but we certainly want to help them.”

Says Ferchmin, “Although this is a great benefit to employers, we do not require anything in return. If an employer can support the clinic and therefore allow us to continue our mission, then we are grateful. We do depend solely on the generosity of others to provide free medical and dental care to the low income residents and workers of Hamilton County. If an employer cannot support us, it makes no difference to the quality of care that we will provide to their employees. All patients are treated with equal professionalism, dignity, and respect that our clinic.”