Doctors Volunteer Clinic in St. George marks 25 years of free care for patients on their ‘last leg’

ST. GEORGE — When there’s nowhere else to turn, the Doctors Volunteer Clinic is there for the uninsured of Southern Utah.

The Doctors Volunteer Clinic helps the uninsured with health care and mental health, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2024 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

The clinic celebrated its 25th anniversary on Monday with an open house. Tours were also given of the dental, medical and mental health areas.

The Doctors Volunteer Clinic is a nonprofit, nongovernment organization that relies on community donations and volunteer staff. Executive Director Deanne Staheli, MSN, APRN, told St. George News the demand for the clinic’s services has steadily grown. The doctors saw around 300 patients per month when it opened; currently, they are seeing around 1,000 per month.

The clinic opened at the Dixie Care and Share Homeless Shelter in St. George in 1999. Dr. Paul Doxey, along with the Washington County Medical Association, organized several community agencies to give back to the 20 percent of Washington County residents who were uninsured and unable to afford health care.  Staheli said clinic soon outgrew the homeless shelter and Walter Cox donated land for the new clinic in 2002.

“I don’t think the Dixie Care and Share realized how crazy it was going to be — how busy. There were just so many people that came for care,” Staheli said. “So, within just a year or two, we had outgrown them … at which point they said, ‘You guys are taking over our building.’

“So Walter Cox donated land here for us to build a building. And that was so helpful. The homebuilders donated their labor and supplies and we were able to get our building.”

The current clinic, which opened in 2003, was in such high demand that they sometimes provided mental health services in the supply room. So they applied for a grant to expand.

“The need in the community was very great,” Staheli said. “The Doctors’ Volunteer Clinic is where patients can come; people in the community can come if they don’t have insurance, if they don’t have the financial means to seek health care anywhere else.”

She said the patients with critical acute needs are treated for such ailments as sore throats, high blood pressure and diabetes. The clinic provides doctors, internists and many specialists to care for the segment of the population that can’t afford to go anywhere else.

The Doctors Volunteer Clinic celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2024 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

Staheli said a grant they obtained made having a mental health wing possible. In 2011, the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation donated to the clinic through a grant to expand the building. Volunteer builders from the Southern Utah Home Builders Association enabled the clinic to double in size of the clinic.

Mental health needs are about 45 % of the clinic’s total encounters. She said the mental health needs in this area are very significant for uninsured people.

“We were so worried about this population not being able to get in for their crisis situations,” Staheli said. “Our suicide rate in this community is high, so we were able to have a project called Project Open Door so that anybody in the community who’s having a mental health crisis can come in for that day — same-day, walk-in services.”

Staheli said her staff is grateful because patients were able to get in for mental health care. Patients have told her staff when they were stable and feeling much better, “They couldn’t believe where their minds were at that time.”

Some of the services for mental health include psychiatry, counseling and medication providers to help the population access affordable health care that same day.

“There have been many people who came just on their last leg,” Staheli said.

The community has supported its mission through private business donations and the yearly Spirit of Hope Gala sponsorship.

“Our donors are so important to this clinic. We so appreciate all they do for us,” Staheli said. “We appreciate their dedication to our mission of providing affordable health care to the uninsured population.”

Forty-nine volunteer physicians come once a week, at a regular time for one shift and every week at the same time so patients get consistency. Additionally, the clinic provides educational training for Rocky Vista University from Ivins, Rocky Mountain Physician Assistant School from Provo and the University of Utah PA program. Their students can rotate three hours for rotation in medical and mental health.

“The students love it because these physicians are so experienced,” Staheli said.

To donate to the Doctors Volunteer Clinic, visit their website.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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