Julie Copp

Seeing the Big Picture

Every morning, as many of us are rolling out of bed, brushing our teeth, and preparing ourselves for another day, others around the Lowcountry are already catching buses, hitching rides, or walking through the cold December air to line up outside the Volunteers In Medicine (VIM) building, often hours before the doors open at 8:30 a.m. Typically, there are around 125 patients with appointments, plus an additional 50 walk-ins, waiting outside those doors on any given morning. They are there to receive quality healthcare from some of the most qualified doctors, nurses, and students in the country. They are there because they know they will receive compassion and care from volunteers who understand their needs. But mostly, they are there because they require medical attention that they can't afford elsewhere.   

As I walked into the VIM building, the Director of Patient Care, Julie Copp, a sweet lady with a contagious smile and a heart of gold, met me. As she walked me through the existing two buildings, she wowed me with stories of generosity from more than 700 volunteers and countless monetary donations. She beamed as she described the organization's growth from six medical examination rooms to 13 over the last few years, and currently being able to offer 23 specialties. As we turned a corner, she proudly pointed out the $50,000 Ultrasound machine that was donated as a gift for their fifteenth anniversary. She then led me into the back building where they were completing construction on their newest dental branch, set to open December 5. As she described all the state-of-the-art equipment that was going into this new branch, she joked, "We call this the Taj Mahal, and we are the Garage Mahal."

When we finally sat down to chat one-on-one, I realized that this was a woman who has made her life's work about helping others and giving those in need the best care possible. For 12 years she owned a home healthcare company in Oberlin, Ohio, until she moved to the Lowcountry nearly nine years ago and began working with VIM. "With home care I was really able to see the big picture-all of the different variables that exist in someone's life relating to their health. Here, I just see the tip of the iceberg. Often we have no idea what is going on in some of the patients' lives. The big picture is, you can have the best healthcare in the world, but if you don't have the money or transportation to pick up a prescription, you don't have the best healthcare in the world. Sometimes the things that are the most simple, such as taking a blood pressure medicine or using a diabetes strip every day, are the things that keep someone from getting better. When you don't have enough money to pay your electric bill or feed your kids, your health is the first thing to go."

Volunteers in Medicine was formed more than 18 years ago by a retired doctor named Jack McConnell who saw a need in the community to help people who lacked the means to care for their health. Many patients are unaware that they are receiving care from some of the top retired doctors in the country, including Harvard graduates and top-rated specialists, such as the volunteer Infectious Disease Specialist. In addition, VIM partners with several medical and nursing schools, offering nursing and physician assistant students the opportunity to gain experience with several specialties in a hands-on atmosphere.

"My goal is to provide patients with the same healthcare I would want for my own mother. When someone walks in you never know what they are dealing with, from a simple virus to a chronic illness. The patients are so grateful for everything, from the medical attention to just having someone who listens and understands their needs."

As long as we have people like Julie Copp and the team of volunteers at Volunteers in Medicine, every individual will have the opportunity to receive the care and compassion they deserve. A giving heart-that is the big picture.

Up Close:

Volunteers in Medicine:

Last year, Volunteers in Medicine treated more than 15,000 people living in or around Hilton Head Island, with more than 35,000 appointments, and they are on their way to meeting or beating those numbers again this year.
Doctors and nurses donate more than 11,000 hours of time annually, and the organization functions without receiving any city, state, or federal funding.

This holiday season, please consider making a donation, or volunteering your time to help those who depend on the Volunteers in Medicine. For more information, please call 843-689-6612 or visit www.vimclinic.org.