WATERLOO, Iowa --- A patient drops by the Waterloo Salvation Army office needing medical help. Another drops by asking for vitamins. Yet another is having blood sugar checked.
It's all possible because Allen College runs a free clinic Thursdays and every other Wednesday at the Waterloo Salvation Army, 218 Logan Ave.
The clinic is the heart of a program called the Allen Community Engagement through the Salvation Army Partnership (ACE-SAP), launched in October 2008 and funded annually by the Cedar Valley United Way.
"We depend on it," said Ruselle DeBonis, a doctor of nursing practice who teaches in Allen College's nurse practitioner program, which staffs the clinic with program students. "One of the things we've seen over this last year is a 60 percent increase in the number of patients we've seen in the clinic. We're one of the few free clinics that can give them assistance."
In 2011, the United Way provided the ACE-SAP Clinic with $11,255.
"It's a wonderful win-win-type of thing," DeBonis said, listing free cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes screenings among the services provided. A partnership with pharmacies at Hy-Vee Stores Inc. through the Iowa Drug Repository Program assures needy patients of free access to drugs needed to keep chronic --- and often life-threatening --- conditions in check.
"We depend on those United Way funds to be able to do all that," DeBonis said.
The United Way also provided $62,704 in 2011 to People's Community Health Clinic.
In the case of ACE-SAP, the United Way responded to a call from DeBonis, said Kelly Knott, the Cedar Valley United Way's senior director of community resources.
"Russ and another employee at Allen approached me about the need they were seeing in the community," Knott said, and they "knew that this was a population that was not receiving the health care that could prevent or manage future health needs." Nursing students also needed the experience.
"From the collaborations that are put into place, this has been very successful" for patients and students, Knott said. "People were already going to this location, so additional transportation was not needed and transportation seems to be one of the biggest barriers that potential participants have in accessing services."
The Salvation Army donates the space for this clinic and allows its case manager, Judy Gilstrap, to schedule clinic appointments, Knott said.
"Not all of the needs can be met for the participants that they see in the clinic, but they have worked diligently to partner with People's Community Health Clinic, University of Iowa and other local providers for further services as well as making sure that people are accessing any additional health coverage that might be available to them," Knott said. "If one program tried to do it all, the costs would be much higher and I doubt the outcomes and results would be as good as what they are."
For their part, Allen students get skills they'll need in order to diagnose," said DeBonis, the director of the clinic --- one of only two in Iowa staffed entirely by nursing personnel. "This is the first time they're getting out to see patients, at least this way."
Each student puts in 20 hours' volunteer service at the clinic launched by DeBonis, herself a member of the NP program's inaugural class of 2000.
"The patients, bless their hearts, are very patient and allow us to take our time," DeBonis said.