DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ:

WE LIVE IN various kinds of families. Parents and siblings, yes, but our circles of friends and workmates form families, too.

For Mary Hogan, her VIMO colleagues, the crew at Port Angeles’ Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics, are family.

There have been times when Hogan has felt like people out in the world don’t care about the VIMO clinic’s work load and unrelenting struggle for funding.

Yet she knows her fellow staffers care.

“I love working with Mary,” said Michael Salyer, VIMO’s medical clinic manager. His colleague looks after the health of not only the clinic’s patients, but also its staff.

“We have each other’s backs,” Hogan said simply.

They’ve got to. VIMO’s workers witness a lot of suffering. Some of their patients are living on the street. They have chronic illnesses and have gone without treatment for too long.

“The people we see, they tug at your heartstrings,” Hogan said.

Health care, homeless veterans, volunteer nurse practitioners, doctors and dentists: not on her radar when she moved to Port Angeles in 2000. She’d worked three decades in accounting, project management and finance.

After she and her husband divorced in 2005, Hogan’s world changed. She enrolled at Peninsula College’s medical assisting program, and was urged to volunteer at VIMO.

Hogan, 62, is now executive director. She’s in her seventh year with the clinic, which has grown steadily in its provision of medical, behavioral health and dental services to people regardless of ability to pay.

Two years ago she fulfilled a dream: finishing her bachelor’s degree. Hogan earned it in health administration through the Colorado State University Global Campus, graduating magna cum laude.

Hogan continues to live the volunteer ethic, serving on the Clallam County Homeless Task Force, which advises the County Board of Commissioners. Oh, and she’s president of the board of trustees for the Washington Healthcare Access Alliance, aka the state’s free clinic association.

On the North Olympic Peninsula, “It takes a community,” Hogan said, to care for its most frail and fragile members. The Olympic Community Action Programs, OlyCAP, is among VIMO’s steadfast collaborators.

Yet as VIMO survives on donations, grants and the ever-changing state funding landscape, Hogan lies awake at night wondering how to keep the clinic running.

There are those who say she should get more public kudos.

But more than recognition, Hogan said, “We want exposure.” She’d love to find a video producer who could portray VIMO and its work. A first step would be depicting patients, including those who are homeless, as human beings.

Hogan and crew seek to make VIMO, in the little house at 819 E. Georgiana St., a welcoming place at holiday time: They decorate, provide hot coffee and snacks, give away hygiene kits.

Recognition does come, Hogan said, in a treasured form: a patient who writes a note saying, “You saved my life;” another who stops in for a chat and a hug.

Caregivers, be they nurses, doctors or family members, have to take time for themselves, Mary added. She knows this from caring for her ailing father, a Navy veteran, for two years before his death.

Talking with me at the end of a long week, Hogan shared her own self-care regimen. It involves coming home; putting on flannel pajamas; curling up with her cat. This is one of the best I’ve heard of.

During the two weeks around Christmas, the VIMO crew takes a break. The clinic closes for carpet-shampooing, deep cleaning and, said Hogan, “just some quiet time, to plan.”

This job, this family: “I still love it,” after all these years.

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz,a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Jan. 2.

Reach her at [email protected]

Volunteers In Medicine of the Olympics can be reached via Vimoclinic.org and 360-457-4431.

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