Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island

Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN CERRATI

VOLUNTEERS IN MEDICINE HILTON HEAD ISLAND HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN ORGANIZATION WITH A PASSION FOR ITS MISSION AND A DETERMINATION TO SUCCEED.

Its founder, Dr. Jack McConnell, went all the way to the state capitol to pursue his vision of a free medical clinic for the underserved utilizing retired medical professionals. Today, 20 years later, VIM Hilton Head Island’s 600-plus volunteers are providing more than 30,000 patient visits annually and there are 94 clinics around the country based on the VIM model.

In keeping with the optimism and determination that has defined the organization, VIM HHI has worked hard to prepare for the challenging times ahead in health care as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.

Dr. Raymond L. Cox, executive director since July, joined VIM after a 35-year career in obstetrics and gynecology. He was most recently senior vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer of Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C.

“I have spent my career caring for underserved women and their families,” said Cox.

“At Volunteers in Medicine, my education, experience and passion come together with singular focus on Dr. McConnell’s vision.”

Cox attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, completed his residency at Emory in Atlanta and received an MBA from Johns Hopkins.

He’s been a teacher, private practice physician and administrator, and has been involved in quality and safety issues in health care on the state and national levels.

Joining Cox in leading VIM is the new chair of the 23-member board of directors, Lisa N. Drakeman. Drakeman is a biotech entrepreneur who has been living on the island with her husband Don since 2007. She has helped create new medicines while honoring her commitment to provide access to health care for all who need it.

Drakeman is the retired founding CEO of Genmab A/S, where she set a number of records, including the largest IPO by a European biotech company, and the largest global biotech licensing transaction. Drakeman received a Ph.D. from Princeton University, where she has taught and now serves on several advisory councils.

According to Drakeman, the important role that Volunteers in Medicine currently plays in our community will continue. Over 70% of VIM’s adult patients are employed in jobs related to the tourism industry, are under- or uninsured, and cannot afford health care. They are vital to the island’s economy.

“We do not expect that health care reform will cover our neediest patients,” said Drakeman.

Among those patients are the children who seek medical, dental and mental health care.

The clinic regularly offers immunizations and medications, treats childhood illness, chronic diseases and injuries, addresses dental emergencies and offers oral health education to families.

As many as two-thirds of VIM’s patients, who live or work on Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands, will not be eligible for insurance or subsidies, as there is no Medicaid expansion in South Carolina. Even with subsidies, insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs are likely to be beyond reach.

“What many don’t realize is that our service area does not have enough physicians and dentists. VIM’s volunteer medical professionals will continue to be a crucial resource in the health care safety net,” said Drakeman.

Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island has ambitious goals this year — including raising $2 million in order to provide comprehensive free health care.

A major fundraiser, just one aspect of an ambitious year-long fundraising program, is Dance for the Kids: Celebrating 20 Years of Healing Children – planned for November.