Update: Volunteer Doctors Still in Great Demand
I recently wrote about Volunteers in Medicine, a Vermont-based organization that works with retired doctors and other health professionals to build free clinics for people without medical insurance in communities nationwide.
You might think that the new health care reform program that Congress passed and President Obama signed into law in late March has lessened the need for the humanitarian efforts by VIM's doctors, such as retired orthopedic surgeon Rajih Haddawi's Indiana clinic (he's pictured here) or retired oncologist Gene Cheslock's Parker Family Health Center in New Jersey.
But VIM's executive director, Amy Hamlin, points out that many of the reforms--such as insurance exchanges that will allow low-income people to obtain coverage at low cost, and federal subsidies to help pay for care for the impoverished--won't fully kick in until 2014. (Here's a Christian Science Monitor article explaining how that will work.)
Additionally, Hamlin says, millions of people, such as undocumented immigrants, will not be covered by the new law. They still will need of the free, no-questions-asked services that VIM clinics provide.
"Healthcare reform definitely is going to have an impact, but we're going to need to wait and see what it will be," she says. "In the meantime, we're finding that there is more need for our clinics' services than ever."
Since January, three new VIM clinics have opened, and others are in the works. In the Las Vegas area, for example, Volunteers in Medicine in Southern Nevada has recruited 450 local health care professionals and opened a new clinic that already is running at capacity. The organization is working to open a second facility in 2012 in what is now a vacant lot in downtown Las Vegas. According to a recent Las Vegas Sun article, an anonymous donor contributed $400,000 to buy the land for the new clinic, which will have space for medical, mental health, dental and vision care services.
VIM-Southern Nevada founder Florence Jameson told the Sun that the majority of the new clinic's patients are children and people between 45 and 55 who have lost their jobs but are too young for Medicare. According to various estimates, about one in four of every Nevadans lacks medical insurance.
Even as federal health care reform kicks in, low-income residents will face obstacle to obtaining services. Hamlin notes that many live in communities with shortages of primary physicians to provide basic health care, "We know from the Massachusetts experience with health care reform that even when people obtained insurance, they had trouble finding primary care doctors," she says. "There are loads of specialists, but no one to do the basic stuff. If that doesn't change significantly, we're going to have a big problem."
Volunteers in Medicine helps fill that gap by leveraging the skills of retired doctors from coast to coast. "We're hoping to front-load the system in terms of primary and preventative care," Hamlin says.
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