BSP Free Clinic Offers Specialty Care for Entire State

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By: 
Michelle Phillips
A volunteer at BSP Clinic in Middleton checks in a patient. BSP is the only free clinic in the state offering specialty care services to the uninsured. BSP receives referrals from over 30 free clinics around the state.

MIDDLETON–Tucked away in the basement of the Harbor Athletic Wellness building on the corner of Allen and Century Boulevards is the state’s only free specialty care medical clinic, BSP (Benevolent Specialists Project) Clinic.

The clinic was the brainchild of three physicians who saw an unfulfilled need for specialty medical services back in 2001. BSP, a mostly volunteer organization with only a handful of paid employees, partners with hospitals, clinics, the UW-Madison and AmeriCorps VISTA to provide a variety of services to patients. 

Patients are referred to the clinic by free clinics around the state. BSP Clinic is available to uninsured adults through the clinics. “We have over 30 clinics in the state that refer patients to us,” said Chris Mullen, program development director and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. “About 60 percent of them come from Dane County.”

The clinic saw a nine percent increase in patients last year, and Mullen said about 70 percent that receive care are Spanish speaking. The 40 volunteer physicians and 16 specialists saw 1,100 patients in that time. But Mullen said the clinic has a 24 percent rate of no shows and cancellations, slightly higher than 20 percent at for profit clinics. He said transportation, getting time off work and childcare are often prohibitive when keeping appointments. 

In the Latino community, trust and competency are a concern as are worries about coming to a new place. To address this, health advocates–Spanish speaking students from UW-Madison–are placed with patients to help them through the health care process, which can be much different than they are used to.

Part of Mullen’s job is public outreach, and he said he tries to reach individuals and community leaders in Spanish speaking areas to let them know about BSP Clinic. 

The clinic is small and clean, with a reception area across from the entrance. Assistant manager Patti Miller has worked at the clinic for six years and said she was working at SSM/Dean when the opening at BSP came up. “It was an opportunity to help other people,” Miller said of why she wanted to join the clinic staff. 

She said her job is varied and she handles referral scheduling, orders test and does test result follow ups. 

Madelaine Bendewald, a volunteer scheduler sits at a desk to the left of the reception window. She is setting schedules in Spanish. Bendewald said that she spends about 15-20 per week volunteering, and learned about the clinic through a family member, and because her husband had become a volunteer.

The space is cramped and Mullen’s desk sits behind her. Mullen confirms the clinic is outgrowing its space and said they are currently looking at solutions. “We have four rooms for specialists. There are 16 specialists, so it is like having 16 separate clinics,” he said. The services offered range from podiatry, cardiology, pulmonology and even psychiatry services, but Mullen said ophthalmology is the most utilized service at the clinic. 

“We see a lot of untreated diabetes cases,” he explained, and said 76 percent of patients at the clinic are in the 30-59 year old range.

Clinic Manager Tricia Levenhagen said that she would like to see BSP continue to grow, but space constraints are a problem. She reminded that as the clinic grows, it’s need for bilingual interpreters will grow as well.

“The program has been very successful. We have some extremely dedicated volunteers, some have been here from the beginning,” Levenhagen said.

The program relies on grants and donations for funding. “Ninety-one percent of donations go to patient care,” Mullen stated.

Levenhagen and Mullen said that volunteerism benefits the volunteers because they feel like they are doing something to directly help individuals. One volunteer who recently passed away told Mullen “This is the highest salary I’ve ever made, and it’s paid directly to the soul.” 

“He spoke to the sense of fulfillment we hear every day,” Mullen said.

BSP Clinic has recently launched a website that allows individuals to sign up as volunteers. It also allows supporters a make donations online. In addition it lists services available, hours and provides contact information. For more information on BSP Clinic, visit bspfreeclinic.org.

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