Coachella Valley’s Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) just celebrated its inaugural year and is currently looking for medical and dental professionals to contribute their time to assist with VIM’s continued growth.
Desert Health® sat down with VIM management team, President Roy Pitkin, M.D.; Board Member and Founder, Ron Hare, M.D.; and Executive Director, Bruce Yeager to learn more about the organization’s commendable work and what we could do to help spread the word.
What exactly does VIM do?
RP: We offer primary medical and dental care to residents of the Coachella Valley with income less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines who do not have or are not eligible for any existing government health care.
BY: I like to say “we are the safety net under all the other safety nets.”
RP: We are open Monday through Saturday for four-hour sessions, depending on availability of providers. We have no shortage of patients as we currently see 300 a month and hold 30 four-hour clinics monthly. Our current volunteers include 11 physicians and four dentists, most of whom work one four-hour session a month but a few who cover two or more.
Your offices are very impressive for a free clinic. Who are the patients you see?
BY: As a free clinic, it is easy to make presumptions that our office is outdated and lacking necessities and that we see the poorest of the poor, but neither is true. Our annual operating budget is underwritten by generous donations from the three valley hospitals and we are selective about the equipment donations we accept. Riverside County is building us a new $2.2 million facility slated to open in early 2013. We currently rent, and the new facility will save us money. We are also in the process of establishing a development program for fundraising.
RP: As for our patients, 75% are from Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indio, and Cathedral City and 14% come from Palm Springs. The surprising statistic is that 28% are from west of Cook Street.
BY: I have lost track of the number of patients who have told me ‘You know, Bruce, 6 months ago I had a great job with health insurance and never in a million years did I think I would find myself needing someone like you, but thank God you are here.”
What is the current need from the medical community?
BY: We need more staff, particularly if we are to expand to meet the need. Our most urgent need is for dental personnel—dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants. We also need physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, administrative front office staff. There is no shortage of patients needing the services we provide, especially dental care where our waiting list approaches 400.
RP: Eight of our 11 physicians are able to contribute only 4 hours a month. We are very grateful for them, but we hope to find more who might cover two or more clinics each month.
What is required from practitioners who want to volunteer?
RP: The only requirement is that they must have an unrestricted license to practice their profession in California. We have a 5 minute application form for them to fill out and we take care of the rest. (There is a credentialing process and committee that reviews each application, including the federal government for liability insurance. The approval process takes about 3 weeks).
BY: If a doctor walks through the door and states he or she wants to work, we will have support staff here to fit his or her schedule.
Can retired practitioners volunteer?
RP: Yes, indeed, as long as they have kept their CA license active. Of the 11 physicians currently active with us, 3 are retired.
BY: Volunteers in Medicine was founded on the premise that their staff would be retired practitioners, but that turns out not to be the case. 75% of the care in the 90 VIM clinics across the country is delivered by actively practicing physicians.
Good will should be enough, but are there other benefits your medical volunteers receive?
RP: The most important and attractive thing we can offer is the opportunity to do what people go into a health profession for—take care of patients, free of all the concerns and distractions of modern practice. One of our volunteers is a leader of a local medical initiative who has actively recruited his colleagues. Moreover, he and his associates bring medical students and residents with them to observe effective teaching of the importance of service to the next generation.
BY: We have a certified diabetes instructor who has met with patients as part of her continuing studies program and has committed to give classes once she has finished.
What about specialist and complementing modalities? Is there a need?
RP: We do have a full range of specialists who either come for consults in our office or see patients in their offices. But most of our cases require primary care, so we need physicians and dentists who practice primary care or specialists willing to do so. With respect to complementary medicine, that is something that we may consider once we are established in our new facility and have our patient load in hand.
How many diabetic patients do you see?
RP: Diabetes is the largest diagnostic category of patients that we see and may be close to 50%. We recently had a doctor agree to hold 2 clinics per month specifically to see diabetic patients, which is wonderful!
What are some of the success stories from your first year?
BY: We can cite dozens of success stories of patients who came to us with uncontrolled diabetes or hypertension or hyperlipidemia and nowhere else to go. After diagnosis and treatment extending over 4 or 5 visits, they are well controlled on a maintenance program. It’s important to note that these three conditions—diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia—are all diseases that often lead to serious problems requiring expensive and unpleasant hospital care, but this can usually be prevented by appropriate outpatient management.
Another example of the community working together…Martha’s Village is geared toward the homeless; however, their medical program was seeing a variety of patients and families who had no where else to go. They now send those patients to us, freeing them up to focus on their primary mission. This type of collaboration is essential.
RP: We have a nurse who has undertaken an analysis of the whole prescription medicine assistance program. This program is very complicated and time consuming, but she has figured it out, permitting us to secure free medications from the drug companies for many of our patients.
BY: I am very proud of this place and feel that the best things are still ahead. I believe that now, at 300 patients a month, we are making a difference. We have grown progressively over the year, and moving into a new building will double our space and increase the number of patients we are able to see.
Lack of volunteers is our only roadblock to serving the many in the community who need us.
Volunteers in Medicine is located on Dr. Carreon Blvd in Indio across from JFK Hospital. For more information on how you can get involved, please contact Bruce Yeager at 760.342.4414 email@example.com