Last year was challenging for We Care Clinic.
Founder Dr. Dennis Saver, who worked tirelessly to provide quality medical care for everyone regardless of their economic status, passed away; Hospital District trustees voted to discontinue funding for We Care Clinic employees after Dec. 31, 2021; and Dr. Herman Fountain, medical director at the Gifford Clinic, announced his upcoming retirement.
In response, Dr. Nancy Baker, the staff of We Care Clinic and the Health Department went to work developing a new, more effective and cost-efficient service model, according to clinic executive director Robi Robinson.
Robinson said the new model will provide a seamless system of medical care for the uninsured in Indian River County, continuing to provide specialty medical services not available at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and offering free clinics to reduce the backlog of patients in certain specialty areas.
We Care was founded in 1991 by a group led by Dr. Saver, and he served as a voluntary primary care physician, board chair and inspirational leader for the past three decades. It is estimated that during those 30 years We Care provided more than $17 million worth of medical services in Indian River County.
Now, under the direction of Robinson (We Care’s only fulltime salaried employee) and volunteer medical director Dr. Nancy Baker, the nonprofit organization plans on expanding its services to include diagnostic testing and diagnosis.
“We plan to hire a fulltime physician’s liaison in January who will act as a referral and eligibility specialist,” Robinson explained. “Our referrals come from Treasure Coast Community Health (TCCH) and Whole Family Health because they are qualified and able to handle people who are underinsured or have no insurance.”
The primary care physician will identify an uninsured patient who needs specialty care and send that referral to the We Care liaison who determines the patient’s eligibility for care. The liaison refers the eligible patient to a specialty doctor who is part of the We Care Volunteer program, sets up an appointment and gathers all the information the specialist needs.
Once the patient has been seen, the liaison will send all the follow-up materials back to the primary care physician. The physician provides treatment for free, and We Care pays for all other associated medical expenses.
“By streamlining the administrative data, it makes it easier for our physicians to give the ultimate gift of service,” said Robinson.
The other big change in the new model is that We Care will be relieving backlogs for specialists at Cleveland Clinic by having a We Care volunteer doctor do diagnostic screenings.
“We serve as a safety net for those people who can’t afford to see a doctor,” Robinson said.
“Now we are expanding that safety net to include diagnostic screenings for colon, rectal and breast cancer. This new service will enable those qualified to get free colonoscopies and mammograms. Since many cancers can be prevented and cured with early detection, diagnostic screenings are one of the new directions we are taking. We’re also looking at expanding eye screenings for cataracts as we had some very successful cataract surgery clinics with Dr. Robert Rheinauer from New Vision in 2021.
“Our ultimate goal is to continue doing what we are doing well, which is helping organize doctors so we can give the gift of service. We are also focusing on getting referrals to specialty doctors and making sure that we can do some screening and early diagnostic for testing.”
Dr. Nancy Baker started volunteering with We Care in 2002 and is proud to step up as volunteer Medical Director. “I am proud to be a We Care volunteer and I love being a doctor and helping people with or without insurance. I am happy to continue being the medical director for We Care for as long as they need me.”
More than a hundred doctors volunteer their time and expertise for We Care and in the last quarter of 2021 alone 79 doctors saw over 600 patients. The care is absolutely free including expenses for medications and health aids like knee braces and bandages.
Patients can qualify for free specialty and medical services if they meet certain criteria established by the Indian River Council Hospital District. They must also qualify for financial assistance at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. In order to qualify, the patient must live in Indian River County, have no group or private insurance and meet financial guidelines including income below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty level, which is currently $12,880 for a single person and $26,500 for a family of four.
The We Care program will move from the Gifford location to offices in the Indian River County Health Department, which will significantly reduce overhead costs. The We Care Foundation will continue to apply for grants and additional funding from the Hospital District and the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics as well as hold major fundraising events.
“In the past the We Care Foundation has held an annual Mardi Gras fundraiser but as a result of the pandemic and Dr. Saver’s death, we have decided to postpone Mardi Gras until March of 2023,” Robinson said. “In place of Mardi Gras we will have an inspirational anniversary event entitled ‘Celebrating 30 Years of Caring’ on March 19 at Oak Harbor. There will be fine food, entertainment and a time for reflection and presentation of special awards.”
For more information about the We Care Foundation of Indian River, visit www.WeCareofIRC.org or call 772-562-0123.