For 10 years, John Beitzel was a key cog in the machine that helps keep the Dungeness Valley Health & Wellness Clinic running.
Now, the clinic’s first volunteer executive director is stepping down.
Last week, Margaret Preston, president of the Dungeness Valley Health & Wellness board of directors, announced that Jim Pickett replaces Beitzel as the top administrator of Sequim’s free clinic.
Beitzel, who has served as the clinic’s director for the past three years, announced his retirement from the position last month. His participation spans from Mary Griffith’s original founding committee right through to the clinic’s 10-year anniversary in October 2011 and beyond.
In 2009, after serving his term as president, Beitzel resigned from the board of directors in order to serve as executive director.
“I think the organization is very stable at this time, financially stable,” Beitzel said. “I really have a tremendous commitment to it, so it’s hard to leave. But Jim Pickett will do a great job.”
Pickett has a long résumé of community volunteerism. The Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce named him the 2010 Citizen of the Year for outstanding volunteer service. Two weeks after receiving the local honor, he received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for his work with the Rotary’s Shelter Box project, which provides temporary shelter for survivors of natural disasters worldwide.
“I’ve been heavily involved with Shelter Box. I got sort of tired of that; I did that for five years,” Pickett said. “This opportunity came up. Since it’s local work, I can pick my time.”
Pickett emphasized that the executive director is an unpaid administrator looking for ways to fund the clinic and encourage donors.
Pickett was a founding member and first president of the Sequim Education Foundation, an Olympic Peninsula Discovery Trail volunteer, an AARP safe-driving class instructor, a leader of Sequim’s 1995 school bond drive, president of Friends of the Sequim Library, a City of Sequim Parks Advisory committee member, president of United Way of Clallam County and a hospice volunteer.
Beitzel said use of the clinic grew rapidly from the start. In its second year of existence, the Dungeness Valley Health & Wellness Clinic saw 391 patients. Eight years later, the clinic saw 2,200 patients.
“We didn’t realize the intense need for dental care,” Beitzel recalls. “The people we see typically are unemployed or uninsured but employed, or under-insured. We went through a phase trying to find specialty referrals. Now we have those contacts: That’s critical.”
A key to making the clinic work was expanding hours, Beitzel said. The clinic originally was open on one night a week to people with basic urgent care needs, then expanded to two nights. When the clinic added a chronic health care, by-appointment session during the day, it “opened up urgent care big time,” Beitzel said.
Now the clinic has about seven chronic care day sessions per month and is seeing about 10-percent growth in patient need annually, Beitzel said.
“The revenue stream is growing at the same rate,” he said. “I think the clinic’s sort of grown up.”
Pickett said a key issue for the clinic in the future will be continuing to get professional liability insurance for the physicians, a program legislators may cut with Washington’s ongoing budget crunch.
“Stopping a program that provides funding for insurance for free clinics in the state … that would be terrible,” he said.
Pickett said one of his goals is to help people understand that the free clinic helps keep people from using the hospital’s emergency room.
“We’re trying to keep their taxes down; it seems to be a win-win thing,” Pickett said.
Beitzel said some issues the local health care scene will have to deal with in the near future include a growing need for dental care, shortage of family practice doctors and, simply, numbers.
“We’re just going to keep getting more patients,” he said.
Beitzel said he has agreed to plan and oversee the clinic’s annual fun walk in September.
Preston also announced that Dick Hughes was elected as president of the board to serve a one-year term.
Tom Montgomery will continue as vice president and Audrey Gift will step into the position of board secretary, following board elections on Dec. 1.
In addition, the clinic board added a new member, Tracy Russell, to its ranks. Russell, a three-year Sequim resident who hails from Jackson, Calif., has a master’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University. She has a long history of employment in nonprofit human services, with a focus on human resources and finance, and retired as director of the Department of Health & Human Services in Amador County, Calif. As a clinic board member, Russell will serve as treasurer and chair the finance committee.
Preston, who will step down after serving a three-year term as clinic board president, will remain on the board for another year and will be chairman of the development committee.
“It has been an amazing few years, with many milestones reached, accolades earned and always much to be proud of as the clinic continues to provide high quality health care to many of our Sequim neighbors in need,” Preston said in a news release.
Dungeness Valley Health & Wellness Clinic work is supported by more than 70 volunteers, including physicians, other professional health care providers and laypersons, as well as private and public donations from the Sequim and Clallam County communities and beyond.
The Basic Urgent Care Clinic is open to patients on Mondays and Thursdays beginning at 5 p.m.
Individuals interested in supporting the clinic may call 582-0218.