Volunteers In Medicine HHI Clinic

Who We Are

“Robert Frost tells us that every poem starts with a lump in the throat. I might add that is also the way to start a clinic for the medically underserved. Or at least that is how the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic on Hilton Head Island, SC began – with a serendipitous meeting on a rainy day that transformed into one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life.”

– An excerpt from Dr. Jack B. McConnell, M.D., Founder of VIM’s book “The Story of the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic”

 

In 1993, Dr. McConnell forged the way when he created the Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island Clinic. This inaugural clinic inspired the creation of the Volunteers in Medicine Institute. VIM HHI now serves as a model for 88 free and charitable clinics nationwide within the Institute. Today, VIM HHI is one of the largest free clinics in the United States. Thousands of patients — adults and children — rely on us.

Our Story

Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island opened in 1993 and was founded by retired physician Dr. Jack McConnell. You might ask what would lead someone who was enjoying their retirement to start up a free clinic? That story starts with a hitchhiker named James…

 

James was a husband and father of two – soon to be three – who was looking for work as he had recently been laid off. Hoping to be able to provide for his family, he was committed to finding work, even if that meant he had to walk miles in the rain to find the right opportunity.

 

Dr. Jack McConnell and his wife, Mary Ellen, built their retirement home on Hilton Head Island. The same day that James was out walking in the rain looking for work, Dr. Jack happened to drive by and offer the stranger a ride to get him out of the dreary weather. James shared with Dr. Jack that his wife was pregnant and he was recently laid off. As they continued to drive, they became more acquainted with one another and being a retired physician, Dr. Jack asked him if his expectant-wife had access to medical care. James replied, “No. Ain’t none of us does.”

 

The pair passed a construction site and James mentioned he might find work there. Dr. Jack parked the car and together the two of them entered the on-site trailer in hopes of speaking with the manager.

 

Luck would have it that one of the employees at the site failed to show up to work and so James was offered work for a few days on the condition that he could begin at that moment. Dr. Jack and James shook hands and as the VIM founder headed for the door, James whispered to him, “I thank God for you, brother. You have been a big help to me. Why did you do it?”

 

Dr. Jack’s response? “I don’t know.” But, in fact, he did know. The next words are from Dr. Jack himself…

 

“Over time I realized that the answer, in one respect, was that I could not do otherwise. My faith gives me the unconscious desire and need to understand and help others. But in truth I expect it was, at a deeper level, my desire and need to understand and help myself. Throughout the whole of my life I have learned and relearned that it is only in service to others that we find and begin to understand ourselves.”

VIM History

The VIM Clinic building was constructed on a 1.1 acre lot of land that the town of Hilton Head agreed to lease to VIM for $1.00 per year. On the day construction began, Dr. Jack paid off the entire cost of the lease – all $30.50 of it! When VIM first opened its doors, Dr. McConnell began with a group of 5 paid staff members, 48 retired physicians, 74 retired nurses, and 3 dentists as primarily a walk-in 7,000 square foot clinic. By the end of that first year, the part-time clinic had seen over 3,000 patients. Over the past 25 years, the Clinic has seen significant growth. Today, there are 22 full-time equivalent employees who operate the clinic with the help of over 650 retired and professional volunteers. As a team, the Clinic staff and volunteers see 10,000+ patients annually over 30,000 patient visits. The Clinic’s facilities now span over 16,000 square feet.

 

Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island keeps children in school, people at work and eases the burden on local emergency rooms. Our primary mission is to serve the health and wellness needs of the medically underserved population who live or work on Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands. Our clinic is the only free and charitable medical clinic offering dental and mental healthcare south of the Broad River. We provide 30,000 medical visits and 6,000 dental visits annually that are equivalent to $13 million in healthcare. VIM conservatively saves the local hospital more than $2.5 million in uncompensated Emergency Department visits.

 

At VIM HHI, we focus on maintaining wellness, educating patients regarding self-care, and helping patients maintain their health so they remain productive members of our community. Funded by the generosity of our donors, we simply could not continue this critical work for our neighbors who need it most without our patrons’ continued support. Volunteers and donations ensure everyone in our community has access to healthcare regardless of their ability to pay. We are proud that 93.4% of incoming funds go directly to patient care. Our patients are not required to pay anything for their care. Every day, Monday-Friday, 40-60 volunteers are needed in the clinic to welcome, register and treat patient walk-ins and appointments.

 

We commit ourselves to the Circle of Caring, making a difference within our community, one patient at a time. Each year, more than 600 lay (administrative) and healthcare professional volunteers provide over 50,000 hours of volunteer service. Our Circle of Caring includes many physicians, medical suppliers and other professionals who donate or discount their fees for services provided.