When Dr. John Letovsky goes to work, he says it's like "Christmas every day."
Letovsky, who previously had a private practice in Eugene, is about a month into his new position as the medical director for Bend's Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades—but it was during his time in private practice that he became aware of VIM's mission of taking care of the uninsured.
"It was always in the back of my mind, and when this opportunity opened up, I was very interested. So it feels really good to be in a position where I can give back to the community."
Volunteers in Medicine provides health care—on a donation basis—for working adults who can't afford medical insurance. VIM's patients range from 18 to 64, the majority of whom have one or more chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol or mental health issues, according to the VIM website. VIM is a nonprofit funded by donations and grants, and receives no state or federal funding.
One of his main duties, Letovsky says, "is to help bridge the gap between patient visits—the continuity from visit to visit, overseeing clinical quality and everything medical. The population that we currently serve, we're their only option for health care. We're their only safety net, and they are so grateful. The gratitude we get from our patients—it's very rewarding."
The Bend clinic serves about 1,000 patients, 80 percent of whom are Hispanic, says Stacey Durden, VIM's development director and communications manager. The other 20 percent of VIM patients are those who fall through the cracks in American health care. Many clients are raising families and working two or three jobs but are still not able to afford health care. Still, many clients make what donations they can, while others offer their services, such as doing landscaping outside the building or even cleaning the windows, Durden says.
Typical patients are childcare workers, painters, landscapers and others who work in construction and restaurants. The Bend clinic is staffed by about 290 active volunteers and 10 staff members.
Letovsky makes it clear that VIM could not fulfill its mission on its own. "We have a very generous medical community that provides care at reduced cost or foots the bill for lab work. A lot of different specialists come here and volunteer their services," he adds, citing St. Charles and Bend Memorial Clinic.
"It's very collegial and there's a lot of sharing of knowledge and learning that takes place," Letovsky says. "We couldn't do what we do without the generous support of providers, donors and volunteers."
From schedulers to clerical workers to nurses, interpreters and pharmacists, VIM can always use more volunteers. "There's a lot of opportunities to do anything, and we welcome them," Letovsky says. Experience can be a bonus but is not required. "It's a fun place to work. It's hard work, no doubt about it, but it's fun." And as an afterthought, he adds, "This is a job like no other. Working not with an employed staff, but a volunteer staff, it's got a whole different dynamic. Everyone is here because they want to be."
On a recent Wednesday—a day when the clinic is usually closed, staff members hosted a group of middle and high school students from Madras who are part of Juntos, an after-school program that prepares Latino students for college. Staff set up about five stations from which the students learned about different aspects of health care.
Letovsky led a session on the heart and how it works clearly in his element as he asked students questions and piqued their curiosity. His prop was an actual cow heart, about the size of a large pot roast. He first asked the students, mostly girls on this day, if they wanted to see it. Any initial repulsion quickly evolved into fascination as Letovsky explained its parts and how they worked, just like those of a human heart.
He says the work he does is "tremendously satisfying. Patients' care, to me and to this clinic, is a huge responsibility and a tremendous honor. It's Christmas every day."
When VIM began in 2004, there were about 25,000 uninsured people in Deschutes County, according to communications manager Durden. Before the Affordable Care Act, the VIM Bend clinic had about 2,500 patients. That number decreased to the current 1,000 or so because others were able to afford their own insurance. But Letovsky points out that everything changes in health care. "Things don't look so good," he says of the current outlook for maintaining accessible care.
Letovsky is originally from Nebraska, but has lived in the Northwest for the past 20 years. Previously, he worked and lived in Colorado and New York City. He and his wife, Diane, bought a house in Sunriver over a decade ago, living there full time since September. He says they enjoy doing everything that Central Oregon has to offer; hiking, biking, Nordic and alpine skiing, paddling, playing tennis and even "trying" to play golf.
Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades
2300 NE Neff Road, Bend