Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2014

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Health Care:

Volunteers forge ahead with plan to treat uninsured

Group has solid funding start, backing of local hospitals, and hundreds of professionals committed to its cause

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Tiffany Brown

Pharmacist Khanh Pham was inspired to join the project by her humble upbringing and by observing patrons at her pharmacy who couldn’t afford needed medication.

Advisers had warned Dr. Florence Jameson to delay her effort to open two free medical clinics for the uninsured because the plummeting economy would stymie fundraising.

But to Jameson, economic troubles make it all the more compelling to help people without health insurance.

And with that conviction, Jameson stepped out into the world of philanthropy Saturday night, making her appeal to business and health care leaders to help those in medical need.

By Monday, she had proclaimed a miracle: About $600,000 in donations and pledges had been made to Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada to help extend health care to those who can’t afford it.

The evening unfolded at Green Valley Ranch Station Casino, where Jameson, an obstetrician-gynecologist, leaned on 180 invited guests.

They already knew the facts of the day: Unemployment is nearing 8 percent. Foreclosure rates are climbing. About one in seven Americans is uninsured.

“We’ve never needed free health care for the uninsured more than we need it now, and we’ll need it more in the future,” Jameson said from the podium.

She shared how she was one of five children raised by a single mother without health insurance. A doctor, she said, volunteered to take care of her family’s health needs. Now she’s trying to repay the kindness he showed her family.

Jameson has helped organize more than 250 volunteers in Las Vegas who are committed to offering free care to patients: more than 70 doctors, dozens of nurses, plus social workers, psychiatrists, pharmacists, lawyers, grant writers and even housekeepers from local hotels.

Local hospitals, which sponsored Saturday’s fundraising dinner, have offered to provide free diagnostic tests to the clinic’s patients, and pharmaceutical donations have been secured, Jameson said.

But the group needs about $3 million in cash and in-kind donations to refurbish a clinic and build a new one, Jameson said. She thinks the group can pull it off for $1.5 million in cash if there are enough donations of construction materials and labor.

“I am asking for your help as a voice for the uninsured, having been one of them,” Jameson told the audience.

Medical volunteers and philanthropists at the banquet were enthusiastic about the project. Pharmacist Khanh Pham is so thrilled to volunteer she almost wiggles when she talks about it.

“I’m excited more than you know!” Pham said.

Pham’s motivations are professional and personal. Every day at her North Las Vegas pharmacy, Pham said, she serves patients who turn in their prescriptions and then, when they learn the price, swallow hard and say they can’t afford the medicines — for diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions that will worsen without the drugs.

“It just breaks my heart,” Pham said.

Pham also knows what it’s like to struggle to survive. At age 16, she escaped Vietnam and floated for two weeks with 203 other refugees on a small boat with no food, collecting rainwater in plastic bags. The group was rescued by the U.S. Navy in the ocean about 400 miles from Saigon. She and her brother came to the United States and became successful.

“I started a new life and I said: ‘God, I will not waste a day,’ ” Pham said. “I know what it’s like not to have something, not to have food, not to have water.”

Among the guests, Chris and Anita Murray said they were impressed by the Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada vision.

“It sounds ambitious, like a program that’s very much needed in these days of underinsurance,” Chris Murray said.

Murray, who sold his software business and moved here from New York in 2000, said he knows like-minded people who moved to Las Vegas with “some degree of wealth” and are looking to make a positive contribution to the community.

The appeal for $3 million is not “chump change, but it’s accessible,” he said. In comparison, the couple met with the development department from Stanford recently to talk about a $2 billion campaign, he said.

Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada plans to open its first clinic, in Paradise Park, within eight months, Jameson said, and a second clinic in North Las Vegas in 18 months.

For more information, call Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada at 994-3760 or go to www.vmsn.org.

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