Mel Wischmeyer: Trinity Free Clinic’s New Executive Director On Providing Care During Pandemic
It was brought to our attention that there are several residents throughout the city of Carmel and Hamilton County who aren’t aware that Trinity Free Clinic (TFC) is the county’s largest provider of free, quality medical, dental and health care services for uninsured, underinsured and low-income residents. TFC is a faith-based nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and is located at 1045 West 146th Street in Carmel.
The pandemic has left many more residents throughout the county unemployed and underinsured or uninsured. As the needs of its patients have grown, so have the services increased that are provided at TFC.
The clinic’s Executive Director Mel Wischmeyer began her new job at TFC back in May during the statewide shutdown. The clinic was closed, but Wischmeyer wasted no time preparing the clinic for its reopening and for how it was going to provide services to its patients affected by COVID-19.
A Brief Overview of Trinity Free Clinic
The Trinity Free Clinic offers extensive clinical services to the community with a dedicated team of volunteers and medical professionals. In the last 20 years, TFC has served more than 22,000 patients. In 2019, TFC provided free medical and dental services to more than 5,100 patients. The value of medical services provided to Hamilton County families in 2019 was more than $1.3 million with zero cost to patients in need.
The clinic’s services include
- Immediate medical care.
- Immediate dental care.
- Pediatrics (well-child visits, vaccinations and car seats).
- Vision care and glasses.
- Women’s health care.
- Referral-only specialty care for physical therapy, podiatry, asthma and hypertension.
- COVID-19 testing (free testing).
Trinity Free Clinic is also planning to become a public vaccination site when a vaccine finally becomes available.
Patient Care During the Pandemic
Wischmeyer shared with us that “Trinity treats many individuals who hold down two or more part-time jobs in service industries (e.g., restaurants, cleaning services, early education, senior care, etc.). As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these individuals are experiencing greater financial insecurity. In addition, families who have never had to rely on a safety net provider for health care find themselves needing such care due to the significant spike in unemployment. Our goal through the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic is to help Hamilton County residents in need return to work and school by [providing] an antibody testing site and a site for immunizations once a vaccine is available.”
Taking the Wheel While Traversing an Uncharted Course
A Carmel resident, Wischmeyer has an extensive background in fundraising and communications, and when the position became available at TFC, Wischmeyer felt that it would be a good match for her and the clinic.
“I felt called to help grow this organization,” Wischmeyer expressed. “I want to be a part of it being around another 20 years and beyond.”
When asked how the pandemic affected her immediate 30-60-90 plan, Wischmeyer replied, “We [TFC] were fortunate in that we had a short shutdown when the pandemic really got underway here. That gave us the time we needed to reassess our safety protocols to keep our patients, medical providers and staff safe. Shortly after [the shutdown], we got an email from the Hamilton County Health Department asking what we needed to continue to treat our patients and continue our mission. They told us to ‘think big,’ and so we did.”
The clinic recently found out that it will receive a Mobile Medical Unit—which was one of the big “asks” it presented to the Hamilton County Health Department.
“We are excited to announce that we will receive it in December,” Wischmeyer stated. “It will help us better serve Hamilton County and continue to deliver our services throughout the pandemic and beyond to all four corners of the county. It will allow us to treat our patients with COVID-19 or those who suspect they have the virus in our mobile unit that we will set up outside of our clinic.”
As a result of its partnership with the Hamilton County Health Department, TFC began administering COVID-19 testing at its clinic on Sept. 23.
“There is no cost for the test, and it is available to everyone with no income or residency requirements,” Wischmeyer explained. “We will be offering evening and weekend hours to help keep employees and students at work and in school, even if just virtually until test results come back.”
The Trinity Board of Directors has developed a five-year strategic plan outlining four key focus areas that include redefining its scope of services, communications, volunteer recruitment/recognition and developing a sustainable funding plan.
Adjusting the Sails and the Five-Year Strategic Plan
“The first area of focus is on reevaluating and redeveloping a clear scope of services,” Wischmeyer shared. “One of those areas of service that we feel very strongly about is behavioral health, and we will be introducing as part of our strategic plan how we plan on integrating behavioral health and social support services into our scope of services.”
TFC will work with mental health professionals in the community at the hospital level and with organizations like Aspire Indiana.
How Can You Get Involved and Support Trinity Free Clinic?
The services provided at Trinity Free Clinic are funded entirely through the generosity of donations and support from individual donors, foundations, grants and community health partners. More than $600,000 worth of medical and dental services were provided to the uninsured and underinsured in Hamilton County last year alone.
Due to COVID-19, TFC has had to cancel its two annual fundraising events at a time when its services are in peak demand. Wischmeyer said the clinic will be holding a COVID-19 Relief Appeal later this fall. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.
In addition to monetary donations, TFC relies on the generosity of its medial professional volunteers, as well as nonmedical volunteers, to keep the clinic running safely and effectively. More than 375 volunteers provided 14,072 service hours to the clinic in 2019.
If you find your schedule has opened so that you have new availability to join TFC as a volunteer, they need you! TFC is looking for nurses, dental assistants and dental X-ray techs. TFC has a special need for Spanish interpreters, medical clerks and COVID-19 screeners. TFC will provide all necessary training for the clerical roles.
“We are hoping that our COVID-19 Relief Appeal will not only let prospective patients know that we’re here but also donors as well,” Wischmeyer expressed. “In addition to seeking funds, we want to get the word out so that people who need our services know we’re here.”
Wischmeyer concluded, “I know it’s a tough time for many, but we have a lot to be grateful for. And by sharing our blessings and making life better for the people in our communities by providing the care they need, it’s such a good investment.”
To donate, learn more about volunteer opportunities and more about the services provided, visit Trinity Free Clinic’s website at trinityfreeclinic.org.