History of the Dungeness Valley Health and Wellness Clinic
~ September 2013
Since opening its doors in 2001, the Dungeness Valley Health and Wellness Clinic (DVHWC) has provided more than 13,000 free patient visits to the underinsured and uninsured members of our community. This remarkable service, which includes dental, vision and other medical specialty referrals and assistance with the cost of prescriptions, has been possible because of the many healthcare providers, nurses and ancillary personnel who donate their time and expertise to the clinic. The nuts and bolts of the organization are managed by a hardworking group of part-time, paid staff, a dedicated Board of Directors and many partners in the community.
One Person and a Great Idea
The origins of the clinic and its values can be traced back to one individual who saw a need in the community and cared enough to do something about it. In her role as Parish Nurse of the Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church (DVLC), Mary Griffith, RN, had received numerous calls from retired individuals who were too young to qualify for Medicare and could not afford to pay for health care. Griffith began researching the feasibility of starting a free clinic in February of 2000 and by June had filed the Articles of Incorporation. By April 2001, a project team from the DVLC had assembled to help. Physicians and nurse practitioners were enlisted and upwards of $3000 in private donations raised. The first of many grant requests was submitted. One of the early team members and the Community Coordinator, John Beitzel, who is still very active in the clinic, remembers 2 years of lots of paperwork and design efforts before the doors could open.
The clinic qualified as a 501(c) organization and on October 15th, the once weekly clinic opened in the church’s parish house with Griffith as Clinic Director. A supportive community responded by contributing an additional $11,000 during the open house. One month later, the Virginia Mason (VM) Clinic in Sequim stepped up to provide free lab work for patients.
By the following year, the VM clinic closed. Fortunately, Olympic Medical Center (OMC) came on board, filling the gap. OMC was a great support, pledging $10,000 for lab and x-ray and they continue to be a vital partner. Also in 2002, a $2,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Sequim for much needed pharmaceuticals was received. At the conclusion of the 1st year of service, 373 patient visits had been provided and it became apparent that the small group of retired individuals comprised only a tiny segment of the underinsured members of the community. Many patients were younger and without any insurance and their numbers were growing. Promoting the theme of wellness, the DVHWC participated in its first health fair which included screenings and health information.
Good dental care is one of the most important aspects of health, but is completely beyond the reach of those without money or insurance. To answer that very great need, a $4000 donation grant for dental emergencies was received from the Haller Foundation. Other “Friends of the Free Clinic” that year were the Trinity United Methodist Church, the City of Sequim and Wal-Mart.
The year 2004 brought many exciting changes to the clinic. More professional volunteers had signed on allowing a much needed second clinic night each week. With added access, patient visits doubled that year. Various specialists continued to come on board for referrals. Amanda Beitzel established the first Community Walk for Health, which would later become the Clinic Fun Walk, an important event to raise awareness and funds. The clinic went online with its own website contributed by Dungeness Communications.
The great work the DVHWC was doing made the news as far as Seattle.
After opening the clinic in 2001 and serving as the volunteer Clinic Director for 4 years, Mary Griffith stepped down but remained an active board member. It was decided that a paid director should be hired to lead the increasingly complex and busy clinic. Board member, Margaret Walthall, RN, stepped in as acting director until Jamie Goodwin, RN, was hired in October 2005. Nurses were required to have CPR training and an external defibrillator was obtained through a grant from the Emergency Medical Systems of WA. In a continued effort to reach out and educate the public, the first Working on Wellness and public health forums were held through the Sequim Area Health Alliance.
$12,000 was raised by the clinic walk in October and large grants from the Haller and Whatton Foundations and Battelle were received.
In 2006, donations arrived from the disbanding Evangelical Free Church and Sunrise Rotary Club. The Clinic Walk raised $16,000. Volunteer Spanish speaking interpreters joined the clinic to improve communication with the increasing numbers of Hispanic patients.
The vision of the DVHWC had always included giving patients the tools to better manage their own health. In 2007 it became clear that an acute walk-in clinic was inadequate to care for a growing group of individuals with chronic illnesses who were not being managed, often seeking help only when in crisis. With an award of $10,000 from the Benjamin N Phillips Memorial Fund the plans for a chronic health clinic were put into motion. An exuberant clinic walk in 2007 grossed over $28,000.
A Banner Year
2008 was a banner year for the clinic and its founder. The Chronic Healthcare Clinic (CHC) opened its doors in May with Larry Germain, ARNP serving as the primary provider. Appointments filled up quickly. Four months later, the clinic moved from the cramped parish house to a larger building owned by the Olympic Medical Center on North 5th Ave. As founder, Griffith received the much deserved accolade: “Clallam County Public Health Hero.”
Also that year, the Prescription Assistance Program (PAP), which helps clients to apply and qualify for expensive medications at no personal cost from participating pharmaceutical companies, was put into place.
In 2009, Jamie Goodwin stepped down from the role of clinic director after 4 tremendous years of service. New Sequim resident, Rose Gibbs, RN, took over the helm, continuing the high standards the clinic now enjoyed.
The positive impact of the DVHWC did not go unrecognized. The Washington State Hospital Association bestowed its prestigious Community Health Award on the organization, deeming it a shiny example of how a community can come together to respond to the needs of its citizens.
Diabetes is one of the most frequently seen chronic ailments managed through the CHC. Diabetics have an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, circulation problems and face many nutritional challenges. A $38,000 Health Systems Resource (HSR) grant was received from the Washington Department of Health in 2010 which allowed the clinic to increase its services for these patients. This additional funding provided group educational opportunities through the Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, one-on-one and group classes taught by Diabetes Educator, Susan Sorenson, RN, and Healthy Eating classes conducted by Registered Dietitian, Chritin Mak.
The new decade brought an expanded vision that universal health care for the entire Dungeness Valley would one day become a reality. The DVHWC remained dedicated to the dual roles of providing basic care to ever growing numbers of underinsured individuals in the community and promoting wellness to everyone. During 2010 the clinics provided over 2,000 patient visits. Free wellness forums were well attended and classes for chronic disease management began to attract attendees. A physical therapist and a massage therapist volunteered their services.
Celebrating a decade of service to the community in 2011, the DVHWC boasted 70 clinic volunteers who provided nearly $600,000 worth of health care services to those in need.
In 2012, 70% of the DVHWC patients were under 50 and more than 40% were employed. The team administrating The Prescription Assistance Program (PAP) provided patients with $221, 000 worth of prescription medicines for free. The 9th annual fun walk raised $35,000 for the clinic. Rose Gibbs was honored by the Sequim Rotary Club for her contribution to the community.
Good works are contagious. Many of the volunteers are appreciative recipients of the respectful and professional care they receive at the clinic. They complete the circle by passing the great gift of health services onto others.