The Central Virginia Health Alliance for Musicians targets brethren in need

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Randy Olson leads the Central Virginia Health Alliance for Musicians where uninsured musicians can get primary health care. Photo: Courtesy of Randy Olson Randy Olson leads the Central Virginia Health Alliance for Musicians where uninsured musicians can get primary health care. Photo: Courtesy of Randy Olson

Taking care of our own

The life of a musician might be interesting, exciting, and occasionally even glamorous, but it’s not the sort of career path that comes with health insurance or a dental plan. When working musicians have an illness or an injury, there isn’t always a way to pay for it.

Earlier this year, Randy Olson sought to fix that problem. Along with Benny Dodd and Keith Bradley, he formed the Central Virginia Health Alliance for Musicians, to provide “low-cost primary care services, basic dental care and mental health counseling” for uninsured, working musicians. “We came together on this thing right after the community had just done a benefit for Benny,” Olson said. “The following morning—I don’t even think he’d been to bed yet—he was calling me, asking ‘how can we do this to help more people?’”

Olson, a transplant from Austin, Texas, was inspired by a similar program there, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. “I’m a cancer patient,” he said. “I was in Austin for treatment, and I met with the people from HAAM about what they were doing, how they were doing it. They were excited to see someone take the program and use it elsewhere. Their founder, she’s not with us anymore, she passed away a number of years ago. But it was her dream to see that program spread to every city.”

“The way it works is, we raise the money, and then we write grants to the medical facility, or the hospital, or whichever organization we’re working with,” said Olson. “We’ve actually partnered with Dr. Joseph Orlick—he doesn’t take people with insurance, he only takes people through what’s called Core Care—and working with us, he’s made slots for up to 200 musicians.” Olson also speaks highly of the CVHAM’s board members who include Palma Pustilnik of the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society; Sally Evans, manager of finance at UVA Medical Center; Jacie Dunkle, owner of Fellini’s #9; and Aric Van Brocklin of the Chickenhead Blues Band.

The CVHAM hosted a fundraiser in October, with an event at the Fry’s Spring Beach Club, featuring live performances by Bill Adams, Soul Transit Authority, Eli Cook Band, Joe Lawlor, and others. “Considering we had a hurricane barreling our way, and it was Halloween weekend, I would say it was a success,” said Olson. “We got a lot of musicians informed, including the musicians who were playing at the event. We had something like 15 of them.”

With a high-profile kick-off for a much-needed service, one would think local musicians would be lining up in droves to apply for coverage. But according to Olson, the organization’s major problem has been attracting applicants. “We were planning an event with a free check-up, free X-rays, whatever you needed, but only three people signed up,” he said. “We talked to the people who we organized it with, and said, ‘This just isn’t cost effective. Let’s just send them to a doctor and we’ll take care of it.’ We’re going to try again in a year.”

“To me, and to the board, that’s been our biggest disappointment. We haven’t had a great outpouring of people trying to get access to it,” said Olson. According to the program’s application form, any uninsured musician living within a 40 mile radius of Charlottesville, living at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level, who can provide proof of work as a musician (including paycheck stubs, concert flyers, and references from club owners and booking agents) is eligible, though the website does emphasize that “other resources may be available to musicians who do not meet all of the current criteria,” and offers to connect applicants with those resources.

“The board is doing an investigation,” he said. “A survey of sorts, to see if we can better understand what it is that this particular locale needs, for the musicians. In every area, some things are already taken care of and other things are needed. That was the big [issue], during the election. With all these new health care things that are coming about …whether you like or dislike them, we need to figure out where we’re needed.”

Olson claims that in recent weeks, he’s been contacted by several notable people in the Charlottesville music community, and he hopes to be able to work with them in the future on outreach efforts for the organization. “We don’t seem to have a problem raising money,” he said. “We put together a big-ticket show, and people step up, when the time is right. We always seem to dig up the help, but what we need now is for people to come up and say, ‘I need your help.’ It’s a new thing, so it’s going to take time.”

More information about the CVHAM can be found on the organization’s website at www.cvham.org.

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