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Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine breaks ground on $4.5 million clinic

Tuesday, October 16, 2018  
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Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine breaks ground on $4.5 million clinic

By: Eric Pera

https://www.theledger.com/news/20180824/lakeland-volunteers-in-medicine-breaks-ground-on-45-million-clinic

 LAKELAND — Throughout its 17 years, Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine Clinic has lived up to its name, returning $5 worth of services for every $1 invested through hundreds of medical and non-medical volunteers and a full-time staff of 16.

LVIM Board Chairman Jim Cossin took note of the math Friday morning, promising even better value to come as the nonprofit clinic prepares an ambitious $4.5 million expansion on a new site near Lake Wire just west of downtown.

The free clinic for people who are working but uninsured assists approximately 30,000 patient visits annually, and is poised to do more upon completion of its new facility on 2 acres adjacent to the Lakeland headquarters of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“Thank you very much to everyone who has helped make this a reality,” Cossin said to a crowd gathered at the construction site at Kathleen Road and George Jenkins Boulevard.

With dump trucks and earth movers adding to the din of early-morning traffic, clinic officials provided a brief history of LVIM, which opened Feb. 14, 2001, at its present location, 1021 Lakeland Hills Blvd., in the former John Cox Elementary School.

Friday morning’s brief ceremony and groundbreaking served as a reminder of the clinic’s genesis as a collaboration between Dr. Glen Barden, an orthopedic surgeon who was managing partner at Watson Clinic in Lakeland, other clinic physicians, the Watson Clinic Foundation and local community leaders.

Barden was inspired by Jack McConnell, a retired physician on Hilton Head Island who was treating the poor for free. Other local retired physicians joined his team and in 1994 the nation’s first Volunteers in Medicine clinic was born.

McConnell eventually created a separate nonprofit, the VIM Alliance, to assist other communities with following his lead. Today the alliance has 89 clinics in 27 states focusing primarily on general primary care. Some, like LVIM, offer dental care, mental health counseling and ophthalmology.

LVIM officials anticipate opening the new clinic by summer of next year with 50 percent more clinical space to handle more patients and facilitate additional services, especially in the areas of mental health and physical rehabilitation.

LVIM President and CEO Bobby Yates plans to retire in December 2019, ushering in even more change for the clinic, which has an annual operating budget of $1.6 million. He has served as the clinic’s head administrator since its inception.

“It has been the greatest honor of my life to steward and grow the compassion and gifts freely given from this community to ensure that at LVIM the treatment is free and the care is priceless,” Yates said in a prepared statement.

Proceeds from the recent sale of the clinic’s current site — $3.5 million — will be used to build the new clinic. Private donors have kicked in the remaining $1 million, said Alice Koehler, LVIM’s chief development officer.

“It is done and we’re so excited,” she said.

Academy Preparatory Center, a rigorous, private program for disadvantaged youth, is the new owner of the Cox school, which was built in 1928.

Academy Prep has campuses in Tampa and St. Petersburg. The Lakeland campus will receive monetary assistance from local contributors, including Barney Barnett, vice chairman of Publix Super Markets Inc. It’s shooting for an opening date of June, serving grades 5 and 6, with grades 7 and 8 to be added later.

Yates used Friday’s ceremony to thank all clinic volunteers, especially 10 who have been on the job since the clinic’s inception and have amassed 60,239 hours of service.

They include: Barden, Annabelle and Bill Fisackerly, Ann Fulton, Mary Henderson, Mary Ann Johnson, Elsa Nail, Marge Newton, Julius Rhian and Dr. Angelo Spoto.

Their combined hours of service equates to $1.2 million, Yates said. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the volunteers.”


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