An organization called Volunteers in Medicine started on Hilton Head Island with a goal of helping the uninsured or needy. Now that clinic, that goal has spread to clinics around the nation including a second right here in the Lowcountry.
At the Greater Bluffton- Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine, the model may be a little different but the patients are the same, people in need of help.
The clinic started just eight years ago as the community saw a need, more than 17,000 people who were uninsured or underinsured.
Now with doctors and nurses, most retired, who volunteer their time in two clinics, Bluffton and Ridgeland, it has become a fixture in the community and a key to get folks medical help who need it most.
“If it wasn’t for Volunteers in Medicine I don’t know where I’d be,” said Jesse Howard
Jesse Howard, an out of work carpenter at the time, came in one day with a sore throat, and doctors at VIM diagnosed his throat cancer.
“You feel like you are lost, you might die. someone starts telling you you might have cancer and you have no way fo getting diagnosed.. scary,” explains Jesse.
“Without VIM would you be here?”
“Probably not. There’s the truth.”
A fear many people have before they walk in.
17,000 people in the greater Bluffton and Jasper County areas don’t have medical insurance. 1400 came to this clinic last year alone for simple medical help, or like Mae Diaz, aid that could save their life.
“I would be dead,” says Diaz. “Because of the heart problem that I had I needed the medicine and just one costs $500 and something dollars and I don’t just need just one. I’m on like 8 different pills.”
“There was nowhere else to get that medicine. There was enough for that week. The following week, I wouldn’t have had anything.”
Retired doctors and nurses donate their time, usually four-hour shifts twice a week, to give back, to make a difference.
“You are helping people that normally can’t afford to do that, can’t afford to get their medicines or whatever tests they need,” says Martha Shipley, VIM Nurse. “To maintain their health and take care fo their families or get a job or whatever.”
“One of our nurses said that as a volunteer and working here at the clinic we get far more out of it that our patients do,” says Executive Director Pam Toney.
“I think it gives the people involved with it a chance to do something helpful,” says VIM Dr. Harold Cross. “They know there are people in need and they can’t meet those needs. the people who support that do the helpful thing, the honest thing. Culturally you see a lot of divisiveness and its a good to see a bright light and this is a bright light.”
“I hope that its an important part of the community,” says Toney. “I hope that by taking care of the uninsured and not well we are making them well and making this a better community for everyone.”
BJVIM’s annual Bourbon and Bubbly fundraising gala is next Thursday. The goal is to help raise the $600,000 needed to run for one year. Grants cover $300,000 of that but are specifically allowed only for certain programs and patient treatments, not staff salaries or operating expenses.