Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Volunteer Doctor – David Hammons, MD
For more than 20 years, Dr. David Hammons has volunteered in downtown San Jose, providing medical care to the homeless and others without regular access to medical care. We recently sat down with Dr. Hammons to learn more about his history and motivation for volunteering.
There is a long history of volunteering in my family. In fact, just last year at age 87, my mother finally “retired” from three different volunteer jobs. Both of my parents set a good example that I’ve tried to follow.
I moved to San Jose after completing my surgery residency at UCLA in 1975. I had served at the Catholic Worker clinic in downtown L. A. and looked for a similar opportunity here. I began serving at InnVision in 1991 and continue to do so as a Garder volunteer physician. My first assignment was at the Julian Street Inn, helping adults who were mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs or alcohol. I have been serving the homeless with Gardner ever since.
I was employed in the emergency department at Kaiser and because of my schedule I had free time during the day to meet with patients. I used to carry all of my supplies and medications in an athletic bag. Kaiser covered my malpractice insurance and provided grants for medications, which most of my patients could not afford. My colleagues also donated funds for medications, too.
I was deeply touched once when one of my homeless patients said to me, “Dr. Hammons, you give us the best medical care that we’ve ever had.” And I was literally operating out of a bag. For me, that remark underscored how hard it is for the poor to access regular medical care, especially those who are homeless. Their usual alternative is the emergency room, where the average wait time is now about eight hours unless you are dying or in critical condition.
When I retired from Kaiser in 2008, they could no longer offer me malpractices insurance. I contacted Gardner Health Services and they were willing to provide me with coverage, as well as pharmacy and EKG services for patients. Now I work once a week in their mobile clinic near the Commercial Street Inn in San Jose, seeing whoever needs to be seen.
My view of medicine, and my motivation for volunteering, is deeply influenced by my religious beliefs. I’m a practicing Catholic and I believe what it says in the Gospel of Luke about how much will be expected of those to whom much has been given. My practice of medicine with the poor is in recognition of what I have been given. I have simply tried to work hard and use my gifts in service to others.
I really do get much more from my patients than I give. This is what I always say when encouraging others to volunteer. If you have a talent or a gift, find people who are in need and share your gifts with them. Your own life will be greatly enriched by the experience.
Gardner Health Services has several volunteer opportunities for medical professionals. Our greatest need is for physicians and nurse practitioners to help in our Healthcare for the Homeless project. If you are interested, please contact Roberta Gunderson at (408) 935-3918.