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Saint Joseph Health System, Lexington, KY
Saint Joseph Hospital to Joing Surgery on Sunday Program That Provides Surgeries to Low-Income Patients Who Lack Health Insurance
Since 2005, 4,000 low-income people without health insurance have undergone free outpatient surgeries in the Lexington Surgery Center, thanks to the vision of one man: Plastic Surgeon Andy Moore, MD. Although thousands have been helped by the Surgery on Sunday (SOS) program, there is a waiting list of another 1,100. Some of these people will have to wait months for badly-needed surgery.

That’s why SOS staff and volunteers have worked hard to expand SOS from one Sunday a month at the surgery center to the Lexington hospitals. Saint Joseph will be the first hospital to open its doors to the program. SOS will be offered at Saint Joseph Hospital one Sunday per quarter beginning March 13.

Moore hopes this will be just the beginning of a greatly-increased capacity to provide free surgery for those who otherwise fall between the cracks of the health care system.

“Waiting a year to have a surgery is not a great idea,” the surgeon said. “And if we add an extra Sunday, it gets even more of the community involved.”

Since 2005, free outpatient surgeries have been performed in donated space in the Lexington Surgery Center the third Sunday of every month. Catholic Health Initiatives, parent company of Saint Joseph Health System, provided a $145,000 grant for the program’s start-up in 2005 and Saint Joseph nurses and clinicians have regularly provided their services to the program.

For income-eligible patients with no health insurance, all services and supplies, from the pre-operative visit with a volunteer surgeon, to the imaging studies, to the medications needed before and after surgery, to physical therapy, to the post-operative appointment, are free.

On March 13 Saint Joseph Hospital will provide the same free services. And not only will more people be helped, Moore said, but the new location will encourage additional surgeons to volunteer.

“We’re finding that a lot of people who are volunteering are interested in doing it in their own hospitals,” Moore said. “That’s where their ‘comfort center’ is. They know the hospital. They know the staff they’ll be working with. They’re willing to do surgery for free in a familiar place.”

And once Saint Joseph becomes part of the SOS program, Moore’s hope is that other Lexington hospitals will donate their sites to the Sunday rotations. That will greatly increase the number of people who can be helped. And it will add to the types of surgeries that can be provided.

“Right now the surgical center doesn’t do neurosurgery,” Moore said. In contrast, “Saint Joseph can do cervical disk bone grafts and put in pain pumps. It will also be a lot easier to do gynecological surgeries at Saint Joseph.”

At Saint Joseph Hospital, the response of volunteers to the first SOS has been overwhelming, according to Laura Ebert, executive director of Surgery on Sunday.

“We’re beyond thrilled that Saint Joseph is starting this,” Ebert said.

Moore is committed to spreading SOS across the nation. Armed with a detailed template, he has approached other communities, and has even been featured on CNN, in “People” magazine, and on Diane Sawyer’s news show on ABC TV.

Yet “we’re having fairly limited success at this point,” the surgeon said. “My dream is to have four or five programs in every state. But the malpractice insurance issue haunts us. You want everybody covered. We pay our own malpractice. We’re solid; we get a good rate, and we cover everybody. But for other communities, seed money is too precious to spend on insurance. What we really want is the federal government to cover it,” which will not happen unless legislation changes.

Holly Moore (no relation to Dr. Moore), RN, BSN, and faith community nurse, is the unit manager for the surgery recovery room at Saint Joseph Hospital. She has volunteered for SOS for years because “I absolutely love it! The patients are so nice, and they’re so grateful for our time and care. All the volunteers are smiling. We’re there because we care about each other.”

Some patients are homeless and live in shelters, “which really pulls at my heartstrings,” the nurse said. “It is so wonderful that Saint Joseph is beginning to do SOS here. We will be able to help more people who most probably would end up in our emergency department if not treated.”

For the volunteers, SOS is also a blessing, Dr. Andy Moore said.

“Most people get into health care to help people,” the surgeon said. “But when a health care provider gets burned out with day-to-day practice, this really renews you. I go every SOS day, whether I’m volunteering or not. All the volunteers wear these great, big grins. Most of what I get is volunteers saying, ‘Thank you for helping me give back to my community.’ We all, at some time in life, need somebody to give us a helping hand. To give that back makes you feel great.”

At the first SOS to be held at Saint Joseph Hospital, a program will be started in honor of Cindy Kline, who was a Saint Joseph Hospital operating room nurse and faithful volunteer for Surgery on Sunday until two years ago, when she died suddenly. Donations for supplies for each SOS will be made in her honor. An anonymous donor has made the donation in her honor for the March 13 SOS.

To learn more about Surgery on Sunday, visit www.surgeryonsunday.org. To volunteer in a medical or non-medical capacity, call 859.246.0046.

Saint Joseph Hospital is a member of Saint Joseph Health System, a 1,012-bed, eight-facility health care system that spans central and eastern Kentucky. Saint Joseph Health System (serving its communities for more than 130 years) is a member of Catholic Health Initiatives, the nation’s third-largest Catholic health care system.

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