HEBRON — Colette Walter wanted to bring health care to her hometown — directly.
She recently opened a direct primary care practice at 117 N. Main St., bringing a new medical option to the Porter County town of 3,671.
Direct primary care, sometimes known as subscription or concierge medicine, charges patients a monthly fee for near unlimited care, often by phone, email or house calls.
"We answer the phone around the clock," Walter said, adding: "Obviously, I sleep."
The number of Northwest Indiana medical practices that accept cash and not insurance has been increasing in recent years, with clinics doing it in Portage, Valparaiso, Highland and Merrillville.
Walter, 50, works under the supervision of Dr. Timothy Ames, a direct care provider in Portage, and got the inspiration for her clinic from Melissa Grcich, a nurse practitioner who owns a similar practice in Valparaiso.
With more people having high-deductible health plans, Walter believes the direct primary care model is more cost-effective. She has had her own experience with medical debt that has soured her views on the health care system. And, she added: "Communication in today's day and age should be so much better, so much quicker."
For $50 a month, or $125 to $150 monthly for families, patients get one wellness visit a year, labs and access to Walter in the office or by phone, email or even at home.
"I want to encourage people who don't have insurance to still come to the doctor," she said.
Walter hoped her clinic would be subscription-only but realized that wasn't possible in a small community like Hebron, where many people have insurance. So she plans to accept coverage from a variety of insurers. She said she already has 130 patients since opening Nov. 5, many of them former clients from previous gigs.
Walter used to work in the steel mills but got discouraged from the profession after she says she experienced sexism because of her supervisory status.
She took an anatomy class and loved it — and her health care career took off from there. She got a master's degree in adult-gerontology nursing and post-master's certification in family care.
She worked everywhere from Knox to Schererville, Lafayette to Nebraska. But she saw a need in her hometown of Hebron, which has few medical providers.
She offers care for people of all ages, women's health, weight loss, chronic diseases. She hopes to bring in an allergist once or twice a month, dispense low-cost medications, perhaps even start an urgent care clinic in the back of her practice.
"I love making a difference in people's lives," she said. "I just basically love health care."