The Benevolent Specialists Project Free Clinic in Middleton, which has provided specialty medical care to low-income people without insurance at no cost for 16 years, is looking for public support so it can continue to operate.
Dean Foundation, which had supplied the clinic’s budget of about $130,000 a year, is no longer contributing because SSM Health’s acquisition of Dean Clinic didn’t include the foundation, said Dr. Timothy Lechmaier, a member of the clinic’s advisory board.
“We’re going to have to go out there on our own and figure out how we’re going to continue to exist,” said Lechmaier, one of nearly 40 doctors, most of them retired, who volunteer at the clinic.
While south-central Wisconsin has at least a dozen free clinics, where patients with minimal incomes and no insurance can get free medical care, most focus on primary care.
The BSP clinic is believed to be the only free clinic in the state that provides only specialty care, including ophthalmology, psychiatry, rheumatology, orthopedics, neurology, dermatology and cardiology.
The clinic’s advisory board learned a few months ago that St. Louis-based SSM Health, which acquired Dean Clinic in 2013, wouldn’t integrate most aspects of the foundation, Lechmaier said.
That meant the BSP clinic would have to find other support, he said.
Donations from individuals and businesses in recent weeks should keep the clinic going next year, but organizers are looking for regular support from the public.
St. Mary’s Hospital, part of SSM Health, continues to provide free lab, X-ray and other diagnostic services, along with information technology and electronic medical record support.
Dean Foundation was a separate entity from Dean Clinic, so it wasn’t part of SSM Health’s acquisition of Dean Clinic, said Kim Sveum, a spokeswoman for SSM Health.
The clinic, open from 1 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, is in the basement of the Harbor Athletic Club on Allen Boulevard. Patients must be referred, and many are sent from other, primary care free clinics.
With volunteer doctors, nurses, physical therapists, podiatrists and interpreters, the BSP clinic sees about 1,000 patients a year.
They include people like a man Lechmaier treated recently for diabetes and high blood pressure. A father of four young children who works two jobs in the food industry, the man was losing feeling in his feet.
Lechmaier restarted his diabetes medication, which helped the numbness subside, and got his blood pressure under control.
“They may have touched medical care before, but now it has become unaffordable, so they give up on their chronic illness,” he said. “They develop complications, and back they come.”
Lechmaier said that with insurance premiums continuing to rise, the need for the BSP clinic likely will increase.
“I think we’re going to see more and more people choose to go uninsured,” he said.