Even though 96 percent of the Massachusetts population is covered by some form of health insurance, including the state-subsidized MassHealth program, a strong demand remains for no-cost medical and dental treatment. According to Arthur Peisner, board chairman of Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires, there are up to 400,000 uninsured people statewide at any given time, including several thousand in this region.
Opened seven years ago under the guidance of the late Leonard Simon, the VIM clinic on South Main Street, across from Guido’s Marketplace and Big Y, operates on a $600,000 annual budget, funded entirely by individual donations and foundation support, Peisner said. It depends on about 50 volunteer health professionals and 75 additional administrative and support staff. The organization holds a summertime gala to raise money and conducts an annual appeal, this year through a mailing to up to 3,000 households that includes a letter by local musician David Grover detailing his struggle with medical and dental emergencies and his rescue at the VIM clinic.
The state statistics reflecting near-universal coverage are based on people who were insured at some point during the year, Peisner explained. "But many who are uninsured for periods of time are unemployed or between employers," he said. "We see a lot of those patients and then try to get them back on MassHealth and Commonwealth Care."