The doctors and nurses at Volunteers in Medicine of South Jersey do not want the distinction of being the area’s best-kept secret.
“We have the staff, we have the volunteers. We want to get the word out so the people who need health care are aware of our services,” said Jackie Meiluta, executive director of the nonprofit with clinics in Cape May Court House and Egg Harbor Township.
Statistics from the Volunteers in Medicine website indicate about 27 million Americans lack basic access to health care. The national VIM initiative was formed nearly 30 years ago as a safety net to build and support a network of free primary health care clinics to serve uninsured and underinsured members of the community. Each clinic is locally managed and independently operated.
By helping people stay healthy, they are more likely to stay employed and less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses.
There are about 13 VIM sites in New Jersey. For the past 20 years, a group of physicians, nurses, specialists, public-health experts and community health providers has operated a free clinic in at 423 N. Route 9 in Cape May Court House. In 2017, an office serving Atlantic County opened at 3073 English Creek Ave. in Egg Harbor Township.
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Meiluta said COVID-19 dealt VIM a blow in terms of getting people in the door. She estimates the clinics are seeing only about 64% of the patients they had before the pandemic. Telehealth services helped, but far too many fell through the cracks and did not get the attention they needed.
“Times were tough for a lot of people before the pandemic and things got tougher. Unfortunately, being able to afford health care and medicine was not an option for the working poor,” Meiluta said.
But the staff at VIM can be a valuable resource to diagnose and treat illnesses and help find low-cost prescription assistance. For the uninsured, the clinics can serve as a primary care office.
“We have a whole team of health care professionals to chase down low or cost-free services for those who need it. Our mission is to make sure whatever limited funds our patients have goes to put food on the table, not be indebted to health care services,” Meiluta said.
And while the typical person seeking services is middle aged and may be dealing with chronic issues, many young adults and families are finding they need help. The Egg Harbor Township office works with volunteers from Rainbow Pediatrics for families with children who don’t qualify for services anywhere else. Doctors and nurses can give check-ups, provide vaccinations and line up specialists if needed. The site doesn’t offer COVID-19 testing, but staffers can help patients register for the vaccine and tell them where it is available. It does, however, offer flu and other vaccines.
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The pandemic is still limiting walk-in services. But staffers man the phones Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and can answer questions and register patients for appointments. In Cape May Court House, call 609-463-2846. In Egg Harbor Township, call 609-867-6384.
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