Margaret Laughlin is Director of Volunteer Services at the UVM Medical Center.

Margaret Laughlin is Director of Volunteer Services at the UVM Medical Center.

Foot care is something we take for granted until we can no longer manage to do it. The UVM Medical Cente! witnessed this reality when elderly patients were admitted to our hospital in dire need of attention due to neglected toe nails and feet, often impeding their ability to wear shoes, exercise and even walk.

The problem is simple: Chittenden County, population 157,500, is home to only two podiatrists. This severely limits access. In addition, low-income seniors struggle with out-of-pocket fees for foot care services regardless of availability. Arthritis, limited hand strength, and poor vision impairs their ability to perform personal foot care and identify issues such as infection.

We needed to do something.

Creatively addressing the need, the UVM Medical Center launched the Footnoters Program more than 20 years ago in direct response to an identified health care gap in our own backyard. We collaborated with the Area Agency on Aging, health care providers, local senior centers and senior housing complexes to secure space for the clinics and eliminate transportation issues. A local podiatrist joined the effort to advise, train and follow up on all referrals for difficult cases requiring professional foot care. Nurses were recruited and Risk Management and Infection Management collaborated to provide necessary expertise.

We’re proud to say that this innovative program has provided exceptional service for more than 20 years.

That is in part due to the dedication and enthusiasm of our volunteers who provide exceptional service at free foot care clinics at eight congregate meal sites and senior residences throughout Chittenden County. Every client receives complete toenail care as well as a thorough foot assessment at each clinic visit. Always keeping the client as the main focus, Footnoters volunteers foster good will between the community and the hospital simply by being a reliable and visible presence in many areas of the community while providing a humble but necessary service that is often not reimbursed by Medicare.

The UVM Medical Center Footnoters volunteers currently donate close to 600 hours annually while serving over 900 people, which add up to 90,000 well cared for toes each year! Together, this small but mighty group has donated more than 10,000 hours since the inception of the program. Volunteers care for their old friends, former teachers and bosses, colleagues and friends of friends.  Vermont is a small yet strong and supportive community, and Footnoters volunteers assist their neighbors to maintain a higher quality of life through the simple yet essential act of providing foot care.

Learn about additional opportunities for volunteering at the UVM Medical Center by visiting our website at Follow the community opportunities link to information and an online volunteer application. You can also read more Volunteer stories on our blog and learn about other Community Health Improvement programs.

Margaret Laughlin is Director of Volunteer Services at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

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