Patients pitch in at Hilton Head Volunteers in Medicine

rheaton@islandpacket.comJuly 14, 2012 

  • The Bluffton-Jasper Volunteers in Medicine Clinic seeks volunteers to help it increase the number of patients it treats.

    Since the clinic opened about nine months ago, about 650 patients have been helped, said Donna Smith, chairwoman of the board of directors. Each week about 24 more qualify for medical assistance.

    "It's growing all the time. That's why we need more help at this point," Smith said.

    To keep up with the pace, volunteers are needed to help examine patients and keep the clinic running smoothly.

    Smith said the clinic is most in need of nurses and other health care providers, such as nurse practitioners and physicians. It also needs interpreters who speak Spanish.

    Volunteers can work a few hours at a time, and as often as they'd like, Smith said, though one day a week is ideal.

    The Bluffton-Jasper Volunteers in Medicine is separate from the Hilton Head Island clinic.

    Details: 843-706-7090

For some patients at the Hilton Head Island Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, being thankful for the care they receive isn't enough.

So they give back.

About 40 patients-turned-volunteers have regularly helped at the clinic. They clean exam rooms or keep the grounds landscaped. They have moved equipment and furniture, and regularly deep clean by wiping down walls, baseboards and thoroughly cleaning each exam room.

The clinic's executive medical director, Frank Bowen, said the assistance is invaluable -- in all, it's saved the clinic at least $20,000 per year.

"It's huge," he said of the volunteers' impact. "... And they do it all with a great big smile on their faces."

Bowen said he never thought patients would become volunteers, but a few years ago, the idea was proposed as the clinic looked for ways to tighten its budget.

"We were in a staff meeting and someone proposed the idea, and we thought, 'Well, it wouldn't hurt to ask,' " Bowen said.

Within a few days, patients had signed up to help. Now, Bowen says, they're part of the more than 500 volunteers who keep the clinic running.

The clinic provides free medical, dental and mental health care for residents of Hilton Head and Daufuskie islands who have no medical insurance and meet income and other requirements.

For the patients-turned-volunteers, helping out just makes sense.

Offir Rodriguez comes about three times a week to clean. She gathers trash, sweeps exam rooms and does other chores that keep things running smoothly.

"I like to cooperate," she said through an interpreter. "The clinic gives a lot to patients, so in return, we want to give back."Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at

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