Indian River County’s We Care provides medical services for those who otherwise might do without
BY KERRY FIRTH
Navigating the healthcare system is challenging enough for individuals with health insurance, but what about those who are uninsured or under insured? Where do they turn for help when they need it?
Fortunately, there is an organization in Indian River County designed to help these members of the community and dedicated to providing health care services for our medically indigent residents. We Care, founded in 1991, is a network of dedicated volunteer physicians, including cardiologists, gastroenterologists, urologists, oncologists, radiologists, surgeons and other health care professionals who volunteer their time and services to help those who need it the most.
“Our services are available to Indian River County residents who meet certain financial criteria established by the IRC Hospital District,” said Jennifer Jones, executive director of We Care. “They must have no group or private insurance and their income cannot exceed 200% of the federal poverty level.”
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2024 poverty threshold is $14,580 for an individual with the 200% ceiling equating to $29,160. The base level increases with each additional family member in the same household.
“We cover 25 areas of care including cardiology, otolaryngology, dermatology, family practice, internal medicine, neurology, orthopedics, general surgery, ophthalmology and urology,” Jones explained. “And if we find a need, we will seek out a specialized physician who can help.”
We Care currently has about 45 physician volunteers who carve out a part of their day to attend to We Care patients. Physicians dedicate a day and will see 10-12 patients instead of trying to fit them into their already busy schedule.
“We’ve worked diligently the past year to establish all day clinics where we can manage the demand for our physicians without disrupting their regular schedule,” Jones said. “We hold these clinics in different locations. The dermatology clinic is at Treasure Coast Community Health on a Saturday, the GI clinic is held at the hospital and our cardio clinics are held at different practitioners’ offices or in our offices on weekends.”
Treasure Coast Community Health, Full Family Health and Cleveland Clinic are We Care’s biggest partners, providing most of the intake and referral services because they are already qualified to provide for the uninsured. They will do the initial exam and evaluate the patient’s ability to pay. Once evaluated for sub-specialty referral needs and deemed indigent, patients are referred to a We Care liaison who reviews the eligibility for care. The liaison then refers the patient to a specialty doctor who is part of the We Care volunteer team. The physician provides the treatment for free and We Care pays for all other associated medical expenses. Last year, We Care received 685 referrals with 11% of them older than 65.
Once the patient has received treatment, We Care will send follow-up paperwork back to the primary care physician. By streamlining the administrative process, it makes it easier for the volunteer physician to give the gift of their service.
“If a patient doesn’t quality for our program, we try to fit them into another like the hospital’s charity program which has different parameters,” Jones continued. “We don’t want them to slip through the cracks. These are basically the working poor who provide services that make our lives better each day. They clean houses, mow lawns and serve you at restaurants. They are hourly workers and if they get hurt, they can’t work. Literally one hiccup can bankrupt them and without our care they could be on the street.”
Vital services provided by We Care volunteer doctors are estimated at more than $1 million annually. But there are other needs to address, like prescription assistance and transportation to medical appointments.
“Our services are vital and important to the community because we help the community function smoother by keeping the working in their homes. We give our patients hope that it will all be OK after a cancer diagnosis. We give the gift of sight to those who need surgery to repair vision ailments. And we give the gift of dignity through our dental program, enabling a young patient to smile again.
“One local woman’s life was most likely saved when stage 4 colon cancer was detected and subsequently treated during a We Care funded colonoscopy,” Jones continued. “She was a waitress and bartender with no insurance and wouldn’t have been able to have the procedure without the help of We Care. Had she not taken advantage of the free colonoscopy, she may have succumbed to disease.”
All of We Care’s funding comes from grants and private and corporate donations from the community. The We Care Foundation of Indian River, a recognized nonprofit organization, was created in 2011 to help fund the programs.
“This year we have very specific needs for our organization,” Jones said. “We need printers and scanners and computers, so if there is someone out there who can help with our technology request it would be fantastic. It’s amazing how even a $1,000 donation goes a long way.”
Visit www.wecareofirc.org for more information on We Care.
Sept. 26, 2023