The We Care program strives to provide free specialty medical care to as many qualified Indian River County residents as possible each year. Since the program is heavily volunteer-based, it is inevitable that backlogs occur.
“The demand has always outpaced the supply because there is such tremendous need for medical care in our county,” said Miranda Hawker, MPH, We Care Foundation Board of Director, “and for many years prior to the hiring of our We Care Clinic physician, Dr. Herman Fountain in 2016, referrals to our specialty physicians were done each month by volunteers Dr. Dennis Saver and Dr. Nancy Baker, both of whom work full-time at local primary care offices.”
The American Community Survey from the US Census estimates there are 33,237 individuals of Indian River County’s 146,093 residents at 150% or less of Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in 2014. At this time, 20.3% of Indian River County residents under the age of 65 were uninsured.
Despite the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, there are still patients that fall through the cracks and are in desperate need of a medical safety net like the We Care program. Since Florida has rejected Medicaid expansion, all patients who are too poor to be eligible for insurance premium subsidies (that is, those who were planned to be “covered” via Medicaid expansion) will remain without resources.
Hawker said, “In a report by the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center, there are an estimated 14,000 low-income adults in Indian River County, which is 42.9% of all uninsured adults who need medical care. The We Care program is an important safety net, in which volunteer efforts of local physicians provide access to specialty care that would otherwise be unavailable to this population.”
The backlog is being addressed and significant progress has been made with the opening of the We Care Clinic in November 2015 and the hiring of additional staff members including Dr. Herman Fountain, We Care Clinic Physician and Medical Executive Director.
Additional staff support, made possible by the We Care Foundation of Indian River’s grant acquisition from the FAFCC include Rich Wise, Office Manager, Tina Zayas, Interpreter/Translator and Patient Eligibility and Clinical Support, and Sonia Dixon, Program Specialist. More patients are being served in a timely manner and the scope of patient services are expanding as well.
During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, there were 739 visits to We Care volunteer physicians. Since Dr. Fountain began working at the We Care Clinic in March 2016, the number of visits has grown to 1,545 for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Dr. Fountain was originally hired to provide primary care services at the We Care Clinic, but has become more of a specialty referral doctor. Upon starting at the clinic in March 2016, Dr. Fountain immediately began to address the backlog issue one specialty at a time building lists of immediate need patients.
Expanding on this process, Dr. Fountain said, “I recently went through the urology backlog and came up with three-pages of immediate referrals, about 25 patients, some of which I’ve seen and some I haven’t seen. Some people could have waited a year for treatment. What we do is get them into the We Care Clinic so I can see them, get necessary tests done, and then refer them to a specialty physician.” The additional staff along with the elimination of the LPN position and addition of the RN position helps to expedite the process to get patients into the clinic, get tests done, and referred to specialty care physicians.
The clinic continues to make progress addressing the backlog each week and will continue to do so in the coming months.
Hawker stated, “Through the energy and enthusiasm of the We Care Foundation of IR, clinic staff and We Care program advocates Dr. Saver, Dr. Fountain, Dr. Mackett and many more, We Care is establishing and growing community partnerships with area hospitals and physicians. These relationships are key to providing specialty medical care to We Care patients in a timely manner, ultimately improving the health of our local residents.”
Dr. Fountain reflected, “It’s incredible the progress that the clinic staff, We Care program supporters, and myself have accomplished during the last year, but there is still room for improvement and we will do just that for years to come.”