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Volunteers in Medicine clinic

May 1, 2004
The Hilton Head Island Web site advertises year-round golf, white sand beaches, and a relaxed lifestyle set in gorgeous natural surroundings.

Dr. Keith Phillips

The VIM Clinic, Hilton Head, S.C.
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The Hilton Head Island Web site advertises year-round golf, white sand beaches, and a relaxed lifestyle set in gorgeous natural surroundings. When Dr. Jack McConnell retired to the area in 1989, these were some of the activities and surroundings he planned to enjoy. Sometime during his first year, however, he noticed that some people on Hilton Head could not afford adequate medical and dental care. In fact, more than 8,000 residents were living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. He also recognized many retired physicians, dentists, and other health care professionals missed treating patients, and were willing to help their neighbors in need. The result was the Volunteers in Medicine clinic in 1994.

Dr. McConnell
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Now operating five days a week with more than 200 volunteers, VIM clinic provides free medical, dental, mental health, and eye care to the island's working poor families. On a typical day, VIM serves about 160 patients! In 2004, the projected total number of patient visits will be more than 22,000, of which 3,000 will be dental visits.

Dr. Grogono
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The dental clinic has two fully-equipped operatories and a dental hygiene operatory, plus sterilization, radiography, and laboratory facilities. Volunteer dentists, hygienists, and assistants provide comprehensive care including restorative, limited endodontics and removable prosthodontics, as well as oral surgery and dental hygiene. The overwhelming majority of dental patients have received no dental care for years before coming to the VIM dental clinic with acute problems.

Dr. Sherman Gans, retired from private practice in New York, developed the dental facilities, served as the first dental director, and has worked tirelessly to obtain funding for the dental program. Dr. Gans' first love is the clinic's pediatric dentistry program. He developed the program about four years ago with a significant grant from the local community foundation. Pediatric dental hygienist, Julie von Clausburg, provides preventive care for children ages 3 to 17. The pediatric team also visits local elementary schools to screen children for dental disease and teach them about oral health. When parents bring their children to VIM, the staff emphasizes oral-health education for the entire family.

Current co-directors are Dr. Anthea Grogono, who served at the LSU School of Dentistry, and Dr. George Myers, from the UMKC School of Dentistry. The clinic's dental adminstrator, Lois Schuhrke, retired from a 24-year career with the ADA in Chicago. Like the volunteer dentists, she relishes the opportunity to help people.

Two years ago, VIM affiliated with the Medical University of South Carolina College of Dental Medicine to serve as a clinical externship site for senior dental students. This year, 10 students will experience a rotation at VIM, treating patients under the supervision of the clinic's volunteer dentists, who are appointed adjunct clinical faculty of the school. Dr. Grogono sees this as the best of all worlds — "Wonderful training and experience for the students, and top-quality care for our patients in need."

After 10 years of service to the Hilton Head community, the clinic has now recorded more than 140,000 patient visits. The clinic's success stems from both the dedicated work and high level of commitment of the many volunteers, and the high level of trust the volunteers have built in the community. Interestingly, the VIM clinic has been so successful that it has been used as a model for 24 free clinics nationwide.

The VIM clinic vision statement:

"May we have eyes to see those who are rendered invisible and excluded,
Arms and hearts to reach out and include them,
Healing hands to touch their lives with love,
And in the process, heal ourselves."

Dr. Keith Phillips maintains a private practice in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is president and founder of The Giving Hand Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to the start-up and development of free medical and dental clinics. Dr. Phillips also serves as a teaching associate at the L.D. Pankey Institute, and is a former faculty member of the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry.

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