VIM Offers Hope for the Uninsured


There was a time not so long ago, when people without medical insurance had the weight of the world on their shoulders…  ” How will I ever become well again?”

These thoughts are more prevalent than ever in this day and age. With the economy the way it is, layoffs, and the highest unemployment rate we have seen here in Deschutes County for decades. What can a good, hardworking citizen do? Especially when their secure life has crumbled and they have lost all their medical benefits? Well, there has been a partial solution for five years but many people haven’t known about it.

VIM (Volunteers in Medicine) is a non-profit, volunteer-powered clinic serving low-income, uninsured individuals and families in Deschutes County. VIM has recently celebrated their five years of serving the community.

VIM has been a 501C3 ( non-profit) since 2002. An anonymous donor couple from the community provided the majority of funds for the “Bricks and Mortar” of the clinic. The clinic located at 2300 Neff Road in Bend opened its new site in April 2004.

It is funded by individuals and businesses in the community, with some support from regional foundations (no government funding.) Of which 100 percent of donations stay local! Since opening in 2004, VIM has provided healthcare for over 6,000 people in the community who lack health insurance.

VIM was modeled after the first Volunteers in Medicine which was established in Hilton Head, South Carolina in 1992. Now there are 71 VIM clinics in 23 states but no two are alike because the model is adapted to local resources. Meaning amount of volunteers available, types of gaps in healthcare access and partnerships in the medical community.

The “Culture of Caring” is the heart and soul of the clinics. They recognize the strengths of those in need and respect their dignity. The 71 clinics have a loose affiliation and share experiences and expertise. Again, 100 percent of all donations from Deschutes County stay local.

Remember the movie, Patch Adams? For those of you that have seen it, do you recall how warm and hopeful you felt afterwards?  That is exactly how the patients feel after they have been seen at the VIM.

Some of the patients after being treated feel so grateful that they come and volunteer their hearts and services, which the clinic always welcomes.

Because VIM relies on doctors, nurses and other professionals who volunteer their time, our clinic is able to provide primary care and coordinate specialty care at an average cost of about $ 350 per patient annually. To put this cost in context, the average annual premium for individual healthcare coverage was $ 4,704.00 in 2008. Although there is no single answer to the national healthcare crisis, with the help of our supporters, volunteers and doctors, we are part of the local solution.

When the clinic first opened, they focused on primary care needs. They quickly learned that due to the lack of access to care in the past, many of the patients who came to VIM had complicated medical issues. Specialty care has now a vital part at our model both inside our clinic and with our community partners. Over the last five years they have developed an outside referral network to include 185 specialists from all over Deschutes County.

VIM is fortunate to say that providers from every specialty in our community have agreed to see VIM patients by referral on a pro-bono basis. The  value of this care is estimated at over $ 3 million every year.

To address the other health needs of patients, they have developed partnerships with OHSU School of Medicine, OSU- Cascades Masters in Counseling program and COCC’s Dental Assisting program. Students complete their practicum hours at VIM under the mentoring guidance of volunteer providers and Medical Directors Robert Hakala, MD and Jim Ritzenthaler, MD.

They have also hosted medical, PA, nursing, and nurse practitioner students who have clinical requirements for graduation and certification. The VIM board of directors is comprised of 12 community leaders Jim Petersen (outgoing chair), Jim Lussier (incoming board chair), Vice Chair-Rod Ray, Ph.D., Judy Alford, Bob Barr, Mike Bonetto, Ph.D., Ronald Carver, MD., Ed Cheeney, Robert Hakala, MD., Judi Hofman, Steven Koski, D. Min. and Marvin Lein.

Fundraising strategy is focused on developing and cultivating long-term relationships with people in our community who understand the value of providing access to healthcare for the uninsured through our clinic. Not only has the number of donors grown during the last five years but the number of multi-year pledges has also increased.

An indicator of the importance of the VIM Clinic in the minds and hearts of donors.

Unfortunately, VIM has had currant challenges to deal with, not surprisingly. The clinic had the biggest single growth last fiscal year (4/1/2008- 3/31/2009) with a 23 percent increase in patient visits.

They have been able to do that despite budget cutbacks. For this to be sustainable long-term, we will need to replace the funds with new investments in the clinic. Right now, there is an approximate waiting time of three to four months for interviews to qualify patients for services at the clinic. VIM’s goal is to continue to provide high quality care and a meaningful volunteer experience for its caregivers.

Some of the qualifying guidelines are:
Full Time work for an individual- about $10/ hr.
– Must live or work in Deschutes County for at least three months.
If VIM can increase funding, they will focus on coordinating care to optimize community resources by:
– Expanding needed services such as lab, mental health and wellness.
– Integrate more volunteers to provide increased levels of care.
– Upgrade technology so that volunteers are more productive, resulting in more patient visits, more care…etc.

Questions for your estate planning or annual giving contact Bill Kemp, developing director at 541/330-9054.

Questions on volunteering contact Kristi Jacobs, volunteer program coordinator at 541/585-9008.


About Author

Leave A Reply