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Wellness for the Working Poor

26,000 Patients, an Expanding Roster of Services

When new patients arrive at the Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) free clinic in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, they bring complicated stories full of aches, pains, concerns, and misconceptions. Not long ago, a woman walked in with an undiagnosed blood dyscrasia and a tumor on her back. Another arrived with severe asthma, explaining that her landlord wouldn’t clean up the apartment. Another patient, who had severe dental problems, believed that he was taking care of his teeth by brushing once a week.

“We work with the working poor,” explains Executive Director Kelly Ranieli. “Some haven’t had a health screening in years.” In the absence of screenings, some conditions go unnoticed. Problems fester and cause more problems: Overweight leads to heart disease, high blood pressure leads to stroke. Seventy percent of VIM’s patients have mental health issues. Four out of five suffer major dental problems, a startling number that likely reflects the county’s water system. Only one community, Hazelton, has fluoridated water.

As a result, in its first 10 years of operation, the VIM clinic has added services, including cardiology consultations, podiatry, and dental care. Most of this care—some 26,000 patients are registered with VIM—is provided by 100 volunteer doctors, nurses, physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and dentists.

Now, with help from the McGowan Fund,
the clinic is renovating its second floor to accommodate expansion of its behavioral health services and a new wellness program.

Meanwhile, demand is increasing. Now in its seventh year, the dental clinic sees 1,500 patients annually, and the organization as a whole has seen a spike in appointments over the last 18 months. With uncertainty in Pennsylvania’s medical and insurance landscape and a county-wide poverty rate of 15.7 percent, says Ranieli, “We’re busier than ever.

This 2018 grant: $100,000.