United Way: Student volunteers to help others get health care

When Matt Pfannenstiel hosted a yard sale to benefit Heartland Community Health Center last fall, he met a couple whose experience there summed up why he has volunteered at Heartland every week for the past year.

“They said it’s really saved their lives. They didn’t know how else to pay for care. They loved how the providers treated them, as a human, not just their problem,” Pfannenstiel said.

“Heartland is really beneficial to the community, for people who are unable to pay for the high cost of medical treatment. It was really cool to know I was part of that organization.”

This Kansas University sophomore and 2013 Free State High School graduate volunteers at Heartland every Friday afternoon, doing things like organizing medical records and calling patients to remind them of their appointments. As he gains an invaluable inside look at the way medical care is delivered in our community, it’s having a profound impact on his career plans.

Matt Pfannenstiel

To volunteer

For more information on volunteering for Heartland, see www.heartlandhealth.org.

About this story

Micki Chestnut is communications director for the United Way of Douglas County, which provides occasional features spotlighting local volunteers and charities supported by the United Way.

Pfannenstiel, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in behavioral neuroscience at KU, plans to apply to the KU School of Medicine with the goal of becoming a psychiatrist or neurologist. (His mother, Kelly Calvert, is human resources director for The World Company, which owns the Journal-World.) As a physician, he wants to embrace the holistic approach to healing he’s witnessed at Heartland.

“I’ve heard stories of doctors who come in, very objective, no emotion, no connection, and ask what your problem is, going through their checklist,” Pfannenstiel said. “At Heartland, they try to figure out what’s wrong with you medically, but also focus on how they can help you emotionally with these medical problems. It’s influenced me to not just improve people’s bodies, but to also improve their lives as well.”

Pfannenstiel is one of 50 people who volunteer at Heartland every month, according to Rachel Hartford, director of community relations for Heartland. Many of those who volunteer in the medical clinic are pre-med students like Pfannenstiel, and they have the opportunity to assist the medical and administrative staff. Other volunteers work in Heartland’s food pantry, helping patients select healthy foods and access other community resources, Hartford said.

In January alone, the clinic served more than 900 patients, Hartford said. Volunteers such as Pfannenstiel are essential to helping the organization care for so many people in Douglas County.

“Matt is extremely passionate about health care and serving the underserved, and that’s really powerful,” Hartford said. “He wants to see that the way health care is delivered changes. He recognizes the need for primary health care, but also the need for holistic health care. We don’t just serve biological needs, but also peoples’ psycho-social needs.”