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Clinic makes its mission to serve those in need

Community collaboration will be the key to success for an ambitious plan to expand free clinic services to downtown Las Vegas, according to the leader of the nonprofit organization leading the effort.

“Health care amounts to more than just getting a doctor visit,” said Dr. Florence Jameson, founder and CEO of Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada. “They need their diagnostic tests, their blood work and X-rays.”

With the help of several local businesses, Volunteers in Medicine offers clients several options in diagnostic testing at no charge at 4770 Harrison Drive, Suite 200. And the new clinic will be no exception. The 12,000-square-foot Ruffin Family Clinic is scheduled to open mid-2015 near the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Madison Avenue. Many of its offerings are provided by businesses such as Quest, CPL Laboratories and Steinberg Diagnostic.

Beyond testing, Volunteers in Medicine offers those with diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions medications through its own dispensary. Medications valued at more than $2 million are offered through national drug companies each year, Jameson said.

Volunteers in Medicine was formed in 2008 and its first location opened two years later. That location serves about 2,200 patients and is sustained by nearly $4 million in donations, including both financial and service-related gifts.

The new building will cost the organization $1.8 million and it is fully funded through donations. A groundbreaking event was Oct. 3 at 1240 N. Martin Luther King Blvd.

Jameson said Phil Ruffin, owner of the Treasure Island, and his wife, Alexandra, were responsible for the final leg of the fundraising for the building, which will be known as the Ruffin Family Clinic. The couple donated $300,000.

Another donor, Aurora Wong, creator of HepBFreeLasVegas, said she has also made sizable donations to the organization. But her involvement is a partnership in a way.

“Florence and Volunteers in Medicine are in my linkage to care network,” Wong said. “They manage and treat chronic hepatitis B for all of my uninsured clients who test positive.”

Her HepBFreeLasVegas organization helps people who are at risk for infection — a large category that includes recent immigrants from most of Asia, parts of Eastern Europe and western sub-Saharan countries.

“People who were born in those countries experience chronic hepatitis B infections at a much higher rate than the general population,” Wong said.

She has sent as about 40 patients to Volunteers in Medicine, she said. And each patient’s cost of care is around $1,000 per month.

Wong gives many reasons for her investment including the organization’s businesslike structure, its ability to maintain that structure and its treatment of the clientele.

But Wong also has another reason as well.

“On a spiritual level, I am investing in Florence’s passion. And the reason is because her passion is informed by a very deep sense of compassion and social justice. Medical access for her is a right,” Wong said.

Jameson says that the structure of her business has changed in recent times. Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, she said, her client list has gotten shorter, but not by much — she was up to 2,600 patients before the act was implemented and knocked down to 2,200 afterward.

There is still a barrier for some in going down the path to insurance or Medicaid. There are still 300,000 without insurance in Nevada right now, Jameson said.

Her clinic has guidelines as to who it accepts as a patient.

“Everybody who can not get on Medicaid or a qualified health plan, a lot of them are between 178 and 200 percent of the poverty line. The working economically challenged. Those are the people who Volunteers in Medicine will take care of,” Jameson said.

Most of the patients who are at these income levels struggle with affording any insurance through the Nevada Exchange, but many also don’t qualify for Medicaid.

Jameson said there may be times when people could be without insurance because they’ve lost their job. The clinic can fill that in-between time.

Jameson projects the client load will grow sharply in her downtown clinic: from 3,000 during the first year to 20,000 after the fifth year of operation.

The new location will supply many of the same services — blood work, X-rays, medications and cancer screening — but will add mental health, vision and dental services.

Jameson said mental health is not a topic that is addressed enough in Nevada, and she intends to do something about it.

“We are going to be setting up mental health social services and networking with other people in our community to try to take care of people who have these issues,” she said.

She also sees a big need for dental care coverage in the downtown area. “Most people aren’t going to spend their last dollar on dental care,” Jameson said.

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