New voucher program helps Islanders get care

A program of Granny’s Attic intended to lessen the financial obstacles to receiving health care on Vashon has undergone a makeover and now provides funds for vouchers for use at the Vashon Health Center.

As part of this new effort, Granny’s Attic, through its Granny’s Gift program, will provide $20,000 a year to Vashon Youth & Family Services earmarked for its VIVA program. In turn, Debbie Rieschl, who manages VIVA, will meet with potential recipients and distribute medical vouchers when needed, primarily to lower income people who do not have health insurance. Each person who receives a voucher will be eligible for up to $250 worth of medical care at the health center each year. Rieschl plans to limit the vouchers to 20 per quarter to ensure that a supply is available throughout the year, she said.

The vouchers are intended to help Islanders pay for preventative care, such as physicals, as well as medical care for chronic, ongoing health issues. They can only be applied to care at the clinic and cannot be used for off-site tests and procedures.

This revitalized program, roughly six weeks in, has proven popular so far, according to organizers.

“Already since we’ve started there has been an enormous demand,” said Jeannine Emery, who recently stepped down as president of the Granny’s Attic board and is one of the primary forces behind the recent changes.

Rieschl said she has given out 13 vouchers since mid-February.

The need came as no surprise to Rieschl, who, through VIVA, provides assistance to Islanders in need, including help with utility bills and vouchers for food, gas and ferry tickets. The program served 139 households last year, translating to 280 individuals. Rieschl said she believes half of those clients could benefit from this new program.

“What I see is a lot of people who have lost their insurance (who are) in their 50s and 60s, and they are starting to develop health concerns and they can’t get insurance,” Rieschl said.

Granny’s Attic supports the work of the Vashon Health Center through its store proceeds. In recent years it has also provided some financial support to a small number of other Island organizations for health care purposes. In the last fiscal year, Granny’s Attic dispersed $209,000 in grants, according to Tim Johnson, who manages the store.

Around 2005, Emery said, Granny’s volunteers voted to dedicate $20,000 a year through the Granny’s Gift program to uncompensated care at the health center. But the dispersal process was not a smooth one, she said, partially because of privacy laws, and each year there was money left over in the fund. Emery and others wanted to ensure that the money was used fully for its intended purpose.

The changes to the program took place in part because both Emery and Rieschl are members of Vashon’s Health Care Council, a year-old group dedicated to learning about Vashon’s unmet health care needs and taking steps to meet them. Last fall, Emery said, she talked with the council about her desires to find a new avenue for dispersing the funds. As Rieschl already supplies vouchers and is familiar with a variety of social service supports, working together seemed a “natural fit,” both women said.

Highline Medical Group, which oversees the Vashon Health Center, has been supportive of the recent changes and will bill 80 percent of their typical fees for this program, Emery said.

Rita Cannell, the manager of the clinic, noted she is pleased the clinic is participating, not only in this program but in the Vashon Community Wellness Project, in which Islanders can receive a discount on health care services and products in exchange for volunteering in the community.

“I think this is amazing,” she said. “It makes me smile to think what this community has done.”

Like the other women involved in the project, she believes many people have been putting off health care for a long time because they have not been able to afford it. “I suspect we’ll be seeing a pretty heavy demand,” she said.

While acknowledging that the program has financial limits, Cannell encouraged people who would benefit from medical services to inquire about the program and obtain care if they are eligible.

“That is our hope and desire,” she said.

Looking ahead, the organizers noted they would like to expand the program to other services and other clinics.

“If it works,” Emery said, “we’d like to expand it beyond our borders now.”

Money from Granny’s Gift must always be used at the health center, she noted, but money that goes to VIVA for this program from other sources, including grants and donations, could be used in any way necessary, such as for prescriptions or for services at other clinics.

“It would be nice if people could see a $100 contribution could send someone to the doctor,” she said.

Many of the 80 or so volunteers who work at Granny’s Attic are also pleased with this change.

“This won’t fix everything, but it will help,” Emery said.


To find out more about the Granny’ Gift voucher program, contact Debbie Rieschl at VYFS at 463-5511.




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