There is a segment of the population that falls into a difficult gap within the health care system — working individuals whose annual income is within 250% of the Federal Poverty level, but who either make too much to qualify for Medicaid, are not offered health insurance by their employers, or cannot afford it or coverage through the Affordable Care Act. These are hard-working business owners, full-time students, families, and individuals. It is estimated that there are more than 130,000 working uninsured in Duval County alone, and many more across Northeast Florida.
Here in Jacksonville, there is a clinic in Downtown that is a “medical home” for these vulnerable individuals, providing free, integrative health care made possible by a volunteer network of more than two-hundred-and-thirty medical and administrative professionals — the non-profit, Volunteers in Medicine Jacksonville.
Founded in 2003 by Jim Burt, MD, and Dottie Dorion, RN, with a vision to provide free, quality healthcare to uninsured members of our community, Volunteers in Medicine Jacksonville has succeeded and keeps growing. The Volunteers in Medicine clinic on East Duval Street now serves over fifteen-hundred individuals five days a week, including Saturdays. The clinic offers both primary and specialty medical services including on-site mental health counseling, vision and eye care, cardiology/ heart disease prevention and maintenance, and diabetes and nutrition counseling. Funded entirely by grants, private and individual donations, and in-kind gifts, their unique volunteer model results in at least five dollars in services for every dollar donated.
The care offered here is integrated beyond that of any medical practice — every patient record here is touched, literally, by both Medical Director Victoria Findley, MD, and Clinical Director Nina Smith, ARNP. Medications are dispensed onsite when possible, and any changes to a patient’s care happen under one roof and with all coordinating specialists easily notified. While it used to be almost exclusively retired doctors and nurses volunteering here, Director of Development Faith Hall says they’re seeing more and more active practitioners come in on their off days to “practice medicine like it should be, and for patients who are so, so grateful.”
To qualify for services, individuals must work at least twenty hours a week, with an annual income between $13k and 250% of the Federal Poverty level (e.g. $30,150 for a single individual). Volunteers in Medicine has remained true to the founders’ established culture of care, one that emphasizes treating each person who enters the clinic with dignity and respect. “Our patients are not just numbers,” the non-profit officially states, “they are our neighbors and our friends. With our integrated health care approach, we do more than just offer a medical diagnosis; we treat the whole person, striving to help each patient achieve their highest possible level of physical, mental and emotional well-being.”
“Our qualifiers work really hard to get the patients treated, here or elsewhere,” says Hall. Longtime volunteer Carolyn Hinckley, one of the two-hundred-and-thirty volunteers who come in each month, says, “I fell in love with volunteering here when I saw what we did made a true difference — we are literally changing people’s lives.”
The non-profit has seen an increase in the number of patient appointments over the years. By September, 2018, Hall says they had already seen six-thousand appointments this fiscal year, up from over four-thousand-seven-hundred in 2017. They’ve also recently expanded collaborations with community and healthcare partners, as well as engaged new donors through fundraising and initiatives. One such partner is Florida Blue, who sponsored the 2017 launch of Volunteers in Medicine’s “Women With Heart” fundraising luncheon, as well as this year’s second event, at which a sold-out crowd of three-hundred-and-fifty guests saw a select group of Northeast Florida “Women With Heart” honored. Additionally, Volunteers in Medicine also holds fundraising events throughout the year.
Their new P.E.A.C.E. (Patient Education, Advocacy, and Community Engagement) initiative is an expansive community outreach effort made possible through Delores Barr Weaver’s second $100,000 challenge match to the organization. Designed to help identify and eliminate roadblocks to access to care, the initiative includes a new program manager, Demika Jackson. Jackson will engage volunteers embedded in Jacksonville’s neighborhoods, places of worship, schools and community events that serve our culturally diverse population to act as Volunteers in Medicine liasons. P.E.A.C.E. was conceived because “potential patients don’t always follow up after outreach events,” says CEO Mary Pat Corrigan. “So, we wanted to recruit those already in the communities to share information about Volunteers in Medicine and when possible, qualify them onsite.” Corrigan says the P.E.A.C.E. Advisory Council, State Senator Audrey Gibson’s office, the Jacksonville Mayor’s Council, and local church reverends are guiding their efforts to find these liasons that will help get patients to the clinic.
The organization’s mission to keep our community members employed, out of expensive hospital emergency rooms, and living self-sufficient lives is at the core of all of their efforts. Board Chair Michael Boylan says that donations and volunteer hours (roughly twenty-thousand hours a month) give the precious gift of health. “Yes, it is true money can’t buy health, but it can provide access to quality medical care for thousands in our community.”
“Access to medical care is a basic tenet of our society,” Boylan continues, saying that donations to Volunteers in Medicine create “a healthier, more productive community.” Founders Burt and Dorion have planted the seeds of hope for a happy, healthy future for many in Northeast Florida.
Volunteers in Medicine Jacksonville’s clinic is located at 41 East Duval St., (904) 399-2766. Visit vim-jax.org.