MedZou plans to open in October

Beginning in October, students and professors from the School of Medicine will begin operations at MedZou, a free clinic restricted to uninsured patients on the waiting list at the Family Health Center.

MedZou is the brainchild of medical student David Atashroo and a group of fellow students. During his first year at the medical school, Atashroo had the idea of an outreach clinic for uninsured patients. From the beginning, he established two non-negotiable principles the clinic would follow.

"We wanted to create a unique medical experience not offered elsewhere to other students," Atashroo said. "We also wanted to serve people in the community in a way they needed to be served."

Atashroo said during his second year he and the student group approached the program in a more professional, researched-based way to build a strong case for the clinic. Their findings showed there was a striking need for health care in Columbia, he said.

Kayla Schleicher, one of MedZou's student directors, said her and Atashroo's classes performed surveys last fall in the University Hospital emergency room.

"We interviewed over 60 stable patients regarding their access to health care," she said. "Over 50 percent of respondents had trouble accessing care in the past year, with cost being cited as the major factor. Twenty-one percent of patients we interviewed were completely uninsured."

Schleicher said only uninsured patients face significant obstacles in obtaining health care, and they are the people who need the most assistance financially. The data, she said, affirmed that Columbia needed an alternative source of care for the medically underserved.

Following research, Atashroo drafted a clinical model and applied for a grant. The grant, from the Association of American Medical Colleges, provides $30,000 spread over four years for the clinic.

Schleicher said many private donations from people throughout the community and the medical school also provide financial support. Central Missouri Community Action, she said, donated a building to host MedZou weekly.

Atashroo said he and other students have also worked with professors in the department of family and community medicine to develop MedZou. They specifically worked with medical doctors Erik Lindbloom, Joe LeMaster and Debra Howenstine.

"If anyone understands the needs of Columbia healthcare, it is them," Atashroo said. "It is through their advice and their wisdom that we have gotten this far."

Atashroo said MedZou serves as a transitional care facility, working with the Family Health Center.

"Best care is provided to people when they have a consistent place to go and a doctor who they know," he said. "The problem is they can't get there right away, so we provide care until they can get there."

The Family Health Center currently treats Medicare, Medicaid and uninsured patients in Columbia. Because of Medicaid cuts in 2005, though, the number of uninsured patients rose dramatically, and center now has a waiting list for some of those patients.

"New patients may have to wait several months to get their first appointment at the FHC," Schleicher said. "We hope to treat these patients while they are waiting and then transition all patients to the FHC, where they will have permanent, continuous quality care."

Emily Doucette, another MedZou student director, said they received extensive help and support beyond the FHC, from the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, Beacon of Hope and several university entities.

Schleicher said MedZou will also incorporate student volunteers from other health disciplines.

"This is exciting because many times these disciplines are isolated from each other until the professional world begins," Schleicher said. "By learning to work together as students, we will be better prepared to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to health care early in our careers."

MedZou will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, Schleicher said. Uninsured patients on the FHC waiting list should contact that clinic for information about MedZou, she said.

Doucette said MedZou will begin to see patients in October but will not have an official opening until November. 

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