BTN LiveBIG: Hawkeye helping Iowa City stay healthy

John Heineman is excited about the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic’s new logo. “It’s a new face to the clinic,” he explains. Heineman is not a new face at the clinic. In 2004, as a University of Iowa sophomore, Heineman volunteered to do basic paperwork.

His involvement grew, culminating in 2007 with a fundraising swim across the English Channel which raised $19,000.

Iowa Free Medical ClinicHeineman’s feat benefited the clinic and his experiences there influenced the direction of his career. He attended medical school at Oregon Health & Science University and then earned a Master’s Degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. As a Resident in General Surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, Heineman jumped at the opportunity to reconnect.

Now serving as a board member, John finds the present day clinic different from the one he left. Still committed to the belief that access to health care is a basic human necessity, the clinic is no longer confined to a church basement. In its new building the clinic boasts more exam rooms and space for healthy-living initiatives such as yoga, nutrition and smoking cessation. In 2013, the clinic’s 42nd year of operation, 2,038 patients received medical and dental care during 5,665 visits.

The oldest free clinic in Iowa, Heineman feels the longevity is part of the appeal to patients.

“It’s a safe place for people to go. It acts for follow-up care. We are able to develop long-term relationships. It’s the reassurance that if they or their child get sick that they have a place to go. Living without insurance is stressful.”

Another new service provided by the clinic is helping clients navigate the Affordable Care Act. At Harvard, Heineman learned that, paradoxically, free clinics in Massachusetts saw an increase in demand for their services after the implementation of statewide universal health care. He envisions a similar trend at the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic.

“We found that people who benefit the most from having 100 percent subsidized care, for a number of reasons, are not able to sign up. Also, there are a lot of people who won’t be covered by the ACA, such as people who aren’t U.S. citizens.”

Heineman worries that donations will suffer because of the perception that there will be less need for free services under the ACA. He isn’t planning to do another channel swim, but Heineman looks forward to the annual Doc Dash in April. This 5K fundraising run attracts medical students, residents and staff from the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, many of whom are also volunteers.

According to Heineman, the students get as much as they give from their connection to the clinic.

“As a medical student, you want experiences working with patients. It’s helpful working with a population different from that at the university. It will hopefully inspire other people to work with underserved populations. Also there are a lot of Spanish-speaking patients, so it provides the opportunity to work on their medical Spanish.”

Whatever the future holds for John, he believes there will be a role for the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic.

“In an ideal world, if the ACA is able to enroll everyone, maybe we wouldn’t have the need for the free clinic. I consider myself optimistic but I don’t think that will probably happen. In the meantime people still need the services. I think there is going to be a role for people who fall through the cracks.”

Heineman was featured in an episode of LiveBIG a couple years ago. Here’s a look back:

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