“No town can become a community as long as we leave behind a segment of the population in need of the basics of life.”    – Dr. Jack McConnell (1925-2018)

We continue to mourn the loss of our beloved founder, Dr. Jack McConnell.

Dr. McConnell lived an extraordinary life.  The son of a preacher in Appalachia, he grew up knowing the value of neighbor helping neighbor.  His family did not have much money, but that did not stop him from fulfilling his childhood dream of completing medical school.

Early in his residency training as a pediatrician, he was stricken with tuberculosis and unable to get out of bed for a year.  The disease did not stop him.  In fact, he became a medical researcher and developed a test that improved the diagnosis of tuberculosis worldwide.  He also contributed to the development of Tylenol.  And the first commercial magnetic resonance imaging system.  And the Human Genome Project.

But he didn’t stop there.  After a wildly successful career, he and his wife, Mary Ellen, moved to an affluent retirement complex in Hilton Head, South Carolina.  He looked beyond the walls of this gated subdivision and saw neighbors in his community who were struggling.  They were working but had no health insurance.  He looked within his peer group and saw retired medical providers yearning for fulfillment.  The solution was clear to him –  start a free medical clinic staffed primarily by retired volunteers.

There were significant obstacles like malpractice insurance, licensing, bureaucracy and naysayers, but they did not stop him.  He rallied stakeholders, leveraged resources and brought the community together to build the Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) clinic rooted in this credo:

May we have the eyes to see those who are rendered invisible and excluded,
Open arms and hearts to reach out and include them,
Healing hands to touch their lives with love,
And in the process, heal ourselves.

Dr. McConnell achieved his vision in Hilton Head.  But he did not stop there either.  He wanted every community to have a clinic like Hilton Head, and began mentoring civic leaders across the United States to replicate the VIM model.  The VIM national office was born and today there are 89 VIM clinics in 28 states providing free, high-quality health care to their neighbors in need.

On February 6, Dr. McConnell left this earth.  But his impact continues.  VIM clinics are expanding, innovating and adapting to changes in the healthcare landscape.  With tens of millions still uninsured, people all over the country see their neighbors struggling.  They choose to act, and VIM provides them with a blueprint for creating meaningful change in their communities.

Thank you, Dr. McConnell, for your passion, vision and leadership.  We won’t stop here.