PORT ANGELES — When the man in the charcoal-gray scrubs smiles and says, “I’m Joe,” you know you’re not in the average dental office.
People walk through Joe’s door in dreadful pain, pain they’ve had to live with it because they couldn’t afford a dentist. Other local residents who come to his office are military veterans, senior citizens or both, and they’ve lost their teeth. They can’t pay for dentures; their insurance won’t cover enough of the bill.
But they have found VIMO, Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics, of which Joe is a part. He’s officially Dr. Joseph Churchill, D.D.S., and he works at the VIMO Dental Clinic, seeing patients according to need, and not according to their insurance coverage.
The place is busy and growing busier, with more than 500 patient visits this year. That’s nearly twice as many as 2017, “and we’re not done yet,” VIMO executive director Mary Hogan said. With more dentists volunteering, VIMO has gone from holding one dental clinic per week to three a week.
The clinic serves people in both Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Hogan said — not at the dental, medical or behavioral health clinics under VIMO’s roof at 819 E. Georgiana St.
Across Clallam County, there are more than 10,000 people who have not been to the dentist in three years or longer, she noted, citing the Clallam County 2017 Community Health Assessment.
VIMO’s dental clinic is in its third year thanks to 12 volunteer dentists, the VIMO staff and community support that includes the Peninsula Home Fund.
The Olympic Community Action Programs, or OlyCAP, administers the Home Fund, which is composed entirely of community donations. It allocates $2,000 monthly to VIMO.
Donations to the Peninsula Home Fund go directly into dental care — and better overall health — for local people who’ve had to forgo that care entirely. In many cases, they’ve been suffering a long while.
Hogan spoke of a man who came to VIMO’s table at the October Voices for Veterans Stand Down, a day of information and resources at the Clallam County Fairgrounds.
He had endured pain for several months, and desperately needed a couple of teeth pulled. At the Stand Down, he got the information he needed to see a dentist at VIMO five days after.
“The smile on his face when he left,” said Hogan, “is why we are here.”
Thirty veterans visited the VIMO crew at the Stand Down; several made appointments for long-needed X-rays and fillings, and all of them kept those appointments, said Shenna Younger, VIMO’s director of operations and development.
On the Monday after Veterans Day last month, VIMO held a special clinic for those who’ve served in the military. Drs. Greg Royack and Steve Turella and dental hygienist Linda Ward treated patient after patient in the clinic’s five operatories.
All of this depends on the local providers who give a few hours a month — quality time, Hogan said.
“Our volunteer dentists do a tremendous job. They understand they may only get to see a patient the one time, so they do as much as they can do in one appointment,” she said.
“It’s great to do work for folks who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity” to see a dentist, added Churchill, who began volunteering with VIMO last summer.
“The dental community has really stepped up,” Hogan said.
Now Younger is on a quest for more volunteer providers. She and Hogan envision a day when the dental clinic can provide not only reactive care but also the preventive kind; an on-site laboratory would also make a big difference, and the VIMO team is considering that.
In these weeks leading up to the start of winter, Hogan and her team are seeking to make VIMO a welcoming place with holiday decorations, hot coffee, snacks and hygiene kits, hand-assembled with toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and such.
The ongoing help from OlyCAP, the Peninsula Home Fund and donations from local people, Hogan said, is critical to VIMO’s mission.
“We are so grateful for our partnerships and community support,” she said.
The mission is straightforward.
“We help anyone who needs it,” Hogan said.
“We never judge. We ask people: What can we do to help you?”
Peninsula’s safety net
The Peninsula Home Fund — a safety net for local residents when they suddenly face an emergency situation and can’t find help elsewhere — is seeking contributions for its annual holiday season fundraising campaign.
From Port Townsend to Forks, from Quilcene and Brinnon to Sequim and La Push, money from the fund is used for hot meals for seniors; warm winter coats for kids; home repairs for a low-income family; needed prescription drugs; dental work; safe, drug-free temporary housing; eyeglasses — the list goes on and on.
• The average amount of help this year has been $129 per person.
• All instances of help are designed to get an individual or family through a crisis — and back on the path to self-sufficiency.
Home Fund case managers often work with each individual or family to develop a plan to become financially stable — and avoid a recurrence of the emergency that prompted aid from the fund.
As needed, Peninsula Home Fund contributions are often used in conjunction with money from churches, service clubs and other donors, enabling OlyCAP to stretch the value of the contribution.
The goal again: “a hand up, not a handout.”
• No money is deducted by the Peninsula Daily News for administration fees or any other overhead.
Every penny goes to OlyCAP.
The money goes to help the most vulnerable members of our community, from infants to families to seniors.
Please note: Because of heavy community demands, the loss of grants because of the economy and recent cuts in government funding, OlyCAP beginning in 2012 was permitted to use 10 percent — 10 cents of every dollar donated — to pay for the vital programs and services for Home Fund clients. (Previously there were no deductions.)
• All contributions are IRS tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law for the year in which the check is written.
Your personal information is kept confidential.
PDN and OlyCAP do not rent, sell, give or otherwise share your address or other information with anyone or make any other use of it.
Since its beginning in 1989, the fund has relied on the support of Jefferson and Clallam residents.
Using the $218,004 contributed to the Peninsula Home Fund in 2017, OlyCAP had helped 1,087 people from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30.
The remaining funding of f $64,611 will continue to help your friends and neighbors on the Peninsula through the middle of January — when 2018 donations will begin to offer a lifeline in 2019.
How to apply for a Home Fund grant
To apply for a Peninsula Home Fund grant, contact one of the three OlyCAP offices:
• OlyCAP’s Port Angeles office is at 228 W. First St., Suite J (Armory Square Mall); 360-452-4726. For Port Angeles- and Sequim-area residents.
• Its Port Townsend office is at 823 Commerce Loop; 360-385-2571. For Jefferson County residents.
• The Forks office is at 421 Fifth Ave.; 360-374-6193. For West End residents.
Leave a message in the voice mail box at any of the three numbers, and a Home Fund caseworker will phone you back.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.