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Medical crises on the rise

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Medical crises are not discriminatory of wealth, sex, race, age, or insurance status.

When someone unexpectedly falls victim to both medical and financial hardships, they may find themselves dangerously vulnerable and without proper care.

A local non-profit organization is in place to make certain that this does not happen.

Since it became fully functioning 10 years ago, Alexandria Area Uncompensated Care Plan (AAUCP) has made its mission to ensure that no one goes without medical care because of his or her inability to pay for it. Each year its network of local health care providers offers medical care free of charge to many people who might otherwise go without.

Complex problem,

simple solution

According to Greg Trumm, local pharmacist as well as president and secretary of AAUCP, the group evolved out of parish health in the late 1990s when a need in the community for such a non-profit medical program was identified.

"The need had always been there," said Trumm. "There just wasn't anything in place to catch these [vulnerable] people, and no method for how to do so."

At first, the concept was to gain enough capital to build an entirely new facility and purchase instruments to treat those in need - an extensive and expensive undertaking.

Then Dr. William Heegaard joined the parish health board and had a brilliant concept.

"Dr. Heegaard had the idea of using the existing facilities we use every day, and allow physicians to give free care there," said Trumm. "It was genius, a wonderful plan, and a simple solution to a complex problem. We don't have to reinvent the wheel."

From this idea, a successful partnership between the medical community and the Douglas County government was formed. More than 70 local physicians and pharmacists as well as employees of Social Services volunteer their time to the program - virtually every medical provider in the community is involved. Douglas County Hospital, Broadway Clinic, Alexandria Clinic, three pharmacies and other facilities are used.

"There is such a willingness to give back to the community that they love," said Trumm. "It truly benefits everyone."

How it works

The goal of AAUCP is to provide access to medical care at a time of financial crisis - in other words, to provide short-term medical coverage for those who absolutely can't afford it, or have a gap in coverage due to circumstance.

"We want to use our funds and abilities to help the working poor, those between insurances, who have recently lost their jobs or are waiting to get on MinnesotaCare," said Trumm. "We do not want to have people who don't want to pay but could. That's what guidelines are for."

Douglas County Social Services screens and validates potential recipients to ensure that they meet income and asset guidelines, which are 10 percent higher than those of standard federal programs.

Once a person is found qualified for the program heor she can receive care for up to three months, with up to $750 worth of care at actual cost.

With so many participating doctors, recipients can go see a physician at any level as long as they are qualified to receive care for the procedure. All services provided under these criteria are free of charge and confidential.

Since physicians are not reimbursed for anything except for lab and X-ray costs, the only major expense to the program is pharmaceuticals. Therefore the actual cost to AAUCP is greatly reduced. In the second quarter of 2010, the value of services provided by AAUCP was almost $22,000. Without the overhead of paying administrators or physicians for their time, the actual cost was just $8,000.

The majority of the funding that AAUCP receives comes from the United Way as well as a number of other foundations. Although there are funding limitations, the group has not yet had a financial crisis, said Trumm. However, they are always looking to the future. Every dollar obtained in donation goes directly to recipients, each year helping more people.

The first year that AAUCP was in place, 37 patients were served. The next year the number increased to 55. This past year, in 2009, 151 people received medical care who otherwise couldn't have afforded to pay for it.

Thanks to the revolutionary idea of Dr. Heegaard, similar programs have been developed in communities outside of Douglas County, healing even more of the needy. "Genuine cooperation is what makes this program so successful, and what makes it a great model that's been replicated," said Trumm. "It's the cooperation between the medical community being willing to donate their time, and the government being willing to screen people. It benefits both groups, helping them to cover more people truly in need, who are sometimes left behind."

For more information, call social services at (320) 762-2302. Licensed professionals are welcome to join AAUCP and attend its meetings at the Alexandria Clinic.