It’s 8:30 on a Monday morning and the doors are just opening at Matthew 25 Health & Dental Clinic. Already, the parking lot is full and there’s a line forming at the front desk.
“Last year, we had 25,000 patient visits,” says Mark Dixon, CEO of Matthew 25. “It’s the volunteers who make this place what it is today.”
Now in its 40th year, Matthew 25 provides free medical, dental and vision care to uninsured, low-income residents of northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio as a non-profit organization.
“A lot of our patients are the working poor,” says Dr. Brad Isbister, Medical Director of Matthew 25. “They might have a good month here and there where they’re able to pick up some extra hours and make ends meet, but that can change. We also see a lot of people who move here from a different state where they may have had Medicaid, but when they come here, it takes months before their Indiana Medicaid becomes active and if you have a chronic illness like diabetes, or a pacemaker or a seizure disorder, you can’t go without your medication for six months. So, that’s where we fit in. All of the care provided here is free of charge, including the medication we dispense.”
Dr. Isbister says a lot of people don’t understand why a clinic like Matthew 25 is needed, given the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, that was put into place by the federal government nearly two years ago.
“We did see our numbers drop for a few months following the initial institution of the ACA,” says Dr. Isbister. “However, many of the plans offered through the ACA are really just insurance in little more than name only. The simplest plan might cover preventative care, but there’s a $6,000 deductible. So, as long as you’re not sick, everything is free. But, if you get sick and need medicine, you have to pay out-of-pocket toward that large deductible. Our clients can’t do that.”
“With the Affordable Care Act, there is no mandate for dental coverage,” says Dr. Roger Valliere, Dental Director at Matthew 25. “There are some plans that have dental available, but with very minimal coverage – maybe a couple of cleanings per year. Most of the people who come here aren’t just looking for a cleaning. They have big problems and need a lot of work. Our dental numbers didn’t change at all with ACA.”
There are 27 full-time staff members at Matthew 25 and six part-time employees. Dixon says last year, 484 people volunteered their time and services at the clinic, with about 150 of them coming to help on a regular basis.
“We couldn’t do this without our wonderful volunteers,” he says. “What makes our clinic unique is that we have 22 different specialties offered here in addition to primary care, dental and optical care. Last year, we dispensed just under $9 million in medication at no cost to any of our clients. But the need is always there and is always growing. All you have to do is look at our waiting room and you’ll see that.”
Dixon and Drs. Isbister and Valliere all believe educating and informing their clients is the best way to help those patients become less dependent on “the system” and more independent about managing their health issues.
“They can lead better lives if they’re informed,” says Dixon. “That’s why we are in the midst of a capital campaign to expand our facility so we can offer things like group diabetes classes, smoking cessation, substance abuse classes and mental health classes. All of that will be free to patients and a huge benefit to them as well as to our community.”
“This expansion will allow us to build upon the relationships we have with our patients,” says Dr. Isbister. “They have a great deal of trust in Matthew 25, so they’re much more open to the kinds of educational opportunities and interventions, where we ask them to do the really tough things like stop smoking, get more exercise and to eat differently. It’s extremely hard to ask someone to change habits they’ve had for a lifetime.”
Dixon is hoping to complete the capital campaign by the end of the year and says donations of any amount are deeply appreciated and will be put to excellent use.
“In addition to adding space for the educational and conference rooms, there will be a beautiful park on our grounds with a pergola and a memorial to the late Grace Mastrangelo, wife of local philanthropist Dr. Michael Mastrangelo. We will also have a chapel built with a chaplain available for our clients. It occurred to me that while we heal the body here, we never address the spiritual aspect and many people who come here are spiritually troubled and would truly benefit from this.”
While Dixon and Drs. Isbister and Valliere are paid staff members, they are known for going above and beyond the call of duty to make Matthew 25 the well-respected institution it is today and has been for four decades. Even though they deal with a lot of challenges and frustrations in their work, they say they can’t imagine doing anything else with their professional skills.
“It’s the satisfaction you get from helping someone who might not have another alternative,” says Dr. Valliere. “I compare it to being on a mission trip year-round. The rewards are just amazing.”
Owner(s): Mark Dixon, CEO
Address: 413 E. Jefferson Blvd. Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802
Phone: (260) 426-3250
Years in Business: 40
Number of Employees: 27 full-time/6 part-time
Products & Services: Full range of medical and dental care services offered at no charge.