Grateful on Labor Day: Volunteers enjoy working at Port Angeles free clinic
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Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
Volunteer receptionist Gerene Russell shepherds hundreds of patients at Port Angeles' free clinic.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Fundraiser for VIMO clinic
“GATHER TO GIVE,” a fundraising party for Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics — aka VIMO — comes to Barhop Brewing, 124 W. Railroad Ave., on Friday, Sept. 20.

The 6 p.m. event will be an open house with games, Little Devil's Lunch Box tacos, local beverages, raffle prizes and live music by the duo Bill and Rudy and the trio Joy in Mudville.

Tickets are $75, but smaller and larger tax-deductible donations will be accepted; 100 percent of proceeds will benefit patient services at VIMO.

For information visit www.VIMOclinic.org or email development@VIMOclinic.org.
To make a clinic appointment or find out about volunteering at VIMO, phone 360-457-4431 or visit www.VIMOclinic.org.

The clinic, at 909 E. Georgiana St., Port Angeles, is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and some Saturdays and offers primary, dental, mental health, diabetes and hypertension care for people without insurance.
— Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — Gerene “Lady Bug” Russell loaded and unloaded airplane cargo for 25 years.

In the scorching Dallas heat, she labored for American Airlines, working long and longer shifts, even as she raised her two daughters.

She was a single mother and not one to take sick days, lest she jeopardize her job.

Retirement came at last in 2005, and Russell moved to Sequim, where the cooler clime suited her.

Her first year off wasn't smooth, though.

She became ill and had to undergo a series of surgeries.

Afterward, though, she got restless.

“Retirement's great. But what are you going to do every day?” Russell thought.

The answer came at Volunteers in Medicine in the Olympics, aka VIMO.

The free clinic at 909 E. Georgiana St., which provided care for 1,500 people last year, needed support staff. Russell hadn't done this kind of office work before.

“I'm computer-illiterate,” she declared. “But I can clean.”

VIMO volunteer coordinator Patty Hannah said fine, but might you like to try the reception desk?

And so Russell, despite what she'd said about computers, sat down at VIMO's machine.

And she has been the clinic receptionist since 2007, wrangling with the computer, the files, the patients, the volunteer doctors, dentists and counselors.

“I think she lives at the clinic,” said Dr. Jeanette Stehr-Green, a fellow VIMO volunteer.

“She knows where everything is located and how to do everything.”

Watching Russell talk with patients, Stehr-Green was touched by her respectful ways.

“She's not a pushover,” Stehr-Green added. “But she clearly understood where these patients were coming from.”

Russell, 70, is feeling grateful this Labor Day weekend.

“I love this job,” she said. “You get to know people,” and what they need, “and you get to meet new people,” while working with a team that includes “Dr. Joe,” the psychologist who volunteers Thursdays and Fridays.

Last Thursday, Dr. Joe — Dr. Joseph Cress — had eight one-hour appointments. He doesn't take a lunch break, according to clinic manager Mary Hogan.

Thursday is counseling day for mental health patients: people coping with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other struggles who do not have insurance coverage.

“Dr. Joe is awesome,” Russell said. “He's booked into November.”

Like the other 48 physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners, Dr. Joe is not paid. He doesn't dwell on that.

“It's an opportunity to help people who are down on their luck,” said Cress, who retired from his practice in 2011, and took a break for “about a month.”

He's worked at VIMO since.

“I happen to have the skills and credentials” to provide mental health counseling, he said.

Because of volunteers such as Cress, VIMO is several clinics in one.

Patients receive treatment and education for high blood pressure and diabetes; primary care; dental care; vision care, help with prescriptions and mental health care.

A number of the volunteer providers are not retired: Dr. Tom Locke, the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, “is here quite a bit,” Russell said.

Along with other volunteer support staff, Russell keeps their appointment schedules in order, reminds patients with day-before phone calls and fills canceled appointments with the people on the waiting list.

“You have to treat it as a job,” she said of her volunteer post.

When asked whether she takes a break from her schedule now and then, Russell replied, “I wasn't raised that way.”

She's been known to dose a patient with tough love. People need to understand that not showing up for a VIMO appointment is not OK, she said; there's another patient out there who could take that spot.

The clinic “is here for people. But don't abuse it,” Russell said.

One day, an 18-year-old man came in with a medical complaint — and the complaint that he couldn't find a job and that he'd dropped out of high school. He was regretting this.

“You need to move to the city,” where there are more jobs, Russell told him. “You might have to work two jobs. You might have to rent a cheap room. And while you're at it, think hard about going back to school.”

“He had tears in his eyes. But he said 'Thank you,'” Russell recalled.

She's a no-nonsense woman — but she likes to brighten up her surroundings, too.

Her nickname, Lady Bug, is reflected in the giant ring she wears.

And that's just one among the clamor of rings and bracelets. Her daughter Robin Bookter, who lives in Sequim, started it all by giving her a pewter ladybug 17 years ago.

“I love the bling,” she said, adding that she couldn't wear any such thing back when she was loading cargo.

Russell is a long way from the hot Texas tarmac; here in her adopted home, she also wears a blouse embroidered with her nickname.



Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 01. 2013 9:10PM
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