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Repaying kindness a patient at a time

At 3 in the morning Dr. Florence Jameson helped bring a new baby into this world as part of her private medical practice. Five hours later, she stood in the lobby of the Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada clinic and excitedly talked about giving birth to yet another facility where medical volunteers would provide free medical service to the uninsured.

She waved to groups of volunteer nurses and medical assistants arriving on a recent breezy, sun-drenched day.

“Hello, volunteers. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” she said, turning her attention back to her visitor and speaking as though she was being timed for how much information she could disseminate in a few minutes. “There are many in medicine who want to make sure no one goes without care and they come here in their off time. Studies show one working-age Nevadan dies every day due to a lack of health insurance and its consequences. More than 350,000 Nevadans are uninsured. Even with health reform, thousands still won’t have access to care. We want to open a new clinic near downtown soon.”

It’s been more than two years since Jameson fought to get this clinic opened in Paradise Park, near Tropicana Avenue and Pecos Road. The clinic, staffed from a pool of about 750 volunteers – physicians, nurses, pharmacists, medical assistants, clerks and housekeepers – is the medical home of 2,200 patients and is on course to provide 6,000 patient
visits in 2012. Upward
of $1 million in free medications have been dispensed and $400,000 in diagnostic tests.

When Jameson was growing up in Southern California in the 1960s, her father went to prison, leaving his five children and wife to fend for themselves in a low-income area. Despite their inability to pay, a local physician provided free medical care.

“You dream of giving back after that,” Jameson said, “to seeing that a lack of health care doesn’t hold people back.”

The only one of the children in her family to graduate from high school – a brother died of a heroin overdose – Jameson worked her way through college and medical school in Los Angeles. There, she saw that the importance of free volunteer clinics extended beyond patients.

“Students like these you see over there,” she said, pointing to a group of medical assistants, “saw how critical it was to give back to the community. What you want is everyone realizing they’re part of a community, making Las Vegas a better place.”

On this day, Dr. Rebecca Edgeworth treats 52-year-old Darlene Schneider, who struggles with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and tries to live on an income of about $1,500 a month.

“I’d be in the hospital every other week without this place,” Schneider said as she gripped an oxygen bottle.

Under Jameson’s direction, the clinic, which operates on a budget of $900,000 a year, has managed to receive continuing donations and in-kind services not only through fundraising, but through critical collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals, medical foundations, diagnostic firms and a variety of medical training schools. Specialty clinics in orthopedics, podiatry and cardiology are provided by volunteer physicians.

The land is purchased, and $500,000 raised, for a 12,000-square-foot clinic near downtown that will cost an estimated $3 million. The clinic, expected to open in two years, would provide patients with expanded services for dental, mental health and vision needs.

Jameson and other clinic volunteers are asking Southern Nevadans to visit www.chasegiving.com or to the Facebook Chase Community Giving brand page at www.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving to vote for Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada in a competition held by the Chase Community Giving Program. The charity receiving the most votes by Wednesday will be awarded $250,000.

“I have sworn before God and you to provide access to health care to many Nevadans who are suffering,” Jameson wrote recently to supporters of the clinic. “To do otherwise will be fatal to many Nevadans.”

Paul Harasim is the medical reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His column appears Mondays. Harasim can be reached at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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