People’s Health clinic depends on physician volunteers
December 20, 2018
Former Olympic athlete Eric Heiden and his wife, Karen, moved to Utah more than 10 years ago to help organize the sports medicine program at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray.
Within a few years, the two stepped away from the hospital to open their own practice in Park City: Heiden Orthopedics.
As they became more established in the community as orthopedic surgeons, they quickly formed a relationship with the nonprofit People's Health Clinic, which serves the uninsured residents of Summit and Wasatch counties, regardless of income level.
"I think we have been helping the People's Health Clinic for nearly 10 years now," Heiden said.
Nearly 10,000 patients are served annually by volunteer physicians, a rotating staff of volunteers and a Board of Trustees. The clinic operates on a roughly $843,000 budget, in large part funded by grants and private donations. Most patients also contribute to their care. The governments of Park City, Summit County and Wasatch County provide additional funding.
Where Heiden and his group come in is by performing orthopedic surgeries for People's Health Clinic patients, free of charge. He estimates he has performed more than 50 surgeries in the last decade.
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"It is pretty easy to integrate it into our orthopedic practice, and we are kind of doing the same thing that we do with everyone else," he said. "They are coming from a unique background and they need help. It is easy to plug them into the system."
Orthopedic surgery is the last resort, Heiden said. He said patients are often sent to physical therapy and only come to him after all other options have been exhausted.
Heiden admitted the volunteer service can be challenging and somewhat taxing on his practice's system. But, he knows his expertise is needed, viewing orthopedic surgery as "kind of unique." Orthopedic surgeons specialize in bones and joints, dealing with medical issues such as broken bones, knee injuries and shoulders dislocations.
He estimated a typical surgery, depending on the injury, can cost more than $10,000, with some surgeries costing upwards of $25,000.
So why does he do it? It's entirely altruistic, he said.
"It makes you feel good at night," he said. "There are things in life that are a little more rewarding than what the bottom line is. You feel an obligation to your community. They say it takes a village to raise someone. Well, it also takes a village to have a successful community. We have really enjoyed living here and it is a great way to give back. It doesn't get much better than that."
Beth Armstrong, executive director of the People's Health Clinic, said it comes down to either helping a patient get better or not providing the service. She added, "I'll go out and ask anyone for the help. If you don't a-s-k you don't g-e-t."
Armstrong said the roughly 40 volunteer doctors who help serve the clinic's patients are invaluable. She referred to them as the unsung heroes of Park City.
"They are the people that give us more than a check ever could," she said. "Most people don't know what this group does for the uninsured. These are not people who are out skiing and get injured. They are the people who clean our hotel rooms, our gardeners, our contractors and service industry workers. Ninety-seven or 98 percent of our patients have one job, but manyhave two or three jobs. They are not just sitting at home taking advantage of our system."
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