New program will help working poor with free surgeries

alopez@macon.comDecember 17, 2013 

The Macon Volunteer Clinic has provided more than 5,000 patient visits and more than $800,000 in medication assistance this year to Macon’s working poor, but until recently the clinic did not have a surgery component.

This month, four women who work but could not afford health care insurance received surgery free of charge.

“One lady has been having gallbladder and abdominal pain for years and needed her gallbladder removed,” said Dr. Lynn Denny, medical director for Macon Volunteer Clinic. “She just could not afford it so she kept on working.”

Health and community leaders announced Tuesday the Surgery For People in Need program. Partners include the Macon Volunteer Clinic, The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Leadership Macon and the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.

The Macon Volunteer Clinic provides free primary medical and dental care and medication assistance to working, uninsured, adult residents of Bibb County who live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Based on federal poverty-level guidelines, that means any individual making up to $22,980 per year would qualify. A family of four could have a total income of $47,100 or less and be eligible.

In Georgia, 47 percent of adults at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level are uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dr. Benjie Christie, a trauma and critical care surgeon, proposed the Surgery For People in Need program as part of Leadership Macon’s final class project. Leadership Macon offers monthly seminars to community leaders on subjects ranging from poverty to health care, and the final class project is meant to reflect what the participants learned.

Christie said physicians who already have committed to donating their time include general surgeons, a gynecologist, a plastic surgeon and a urologist.

“They are looking forward to their opportunity to participate,” he said.

The first four surgeries through the program took place Dec. 1 at the Medical Center.

The goal for 2014 is to offer the free surgeries one Sunday per month at the Medical Center, Christie said.

A sister program and model for the Surgery for People in Need program is the Surgery on Sunday program in Kentucky, which since 2005 has been offering free surgeries to eligible patients.

Christie said Macon’s version is the first in the state.

“This is unique and this is happening in Macon,” he said.

James Freeman, a Macon attorney and member of the Leadership Macon class of 2013, said people who end up in the emergency room after years of letting issues fester face greater complications and more invasive procedures at a larger cost to the community. He said Christie presented graphic photos of patients who fit that description in proposing the Surgery for People in Need program at Leadership Macon meetings.

“Many times there were symptoms early on, there were things that were identified where surgery could have been used early on at a minimally invasive cost,” Freeman said.

The Surgery For People in Need program addresses this need, Freeman said.

To apply for help from the Macon Volunteer Clinic, people need proof of residency and proof of employment, said Cile Lind, executive director. They will need to provide their tax returns and their last six pay stubs.

Clinic hours are Monday 5-7 p.m., Tuesday 5-8 p.m., and Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m.-noon. There is a lab on site, and the clinic offers mental health counseling, nutrition counseling, ophthalmology and gynecology.

For more information, visit maconvolunteerclinic.com or call the Macon Volunteer Clinic at 755-1110.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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