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Doctors honored for their charitable work across San Diego County

The San Diego Union Tribune

By Paul Sisson - Contact Reporter

March 26, 2017 5:50 pm

 

Aross the region, patients struggle to obtain appointments with surgeons and other specialists who can treat them. That's the case not only for the uninsured, but also for people on Medi-Cal government insurance or some who got coverage through Obamacare.

Many specialists don't accept patients whose insurance policies offer low payments when compared to, say, company-sponsored health plans.

So Champions for Health, previously called the San Diego County Medical Society Foundation, runs a program that offers charitable care. Project Access urges local doctors, nurses, other medical professionals and hospitals to donate their time, skills and materials, allowing patients with limited financial means to receive free care.

On Monday, Champions for Health intends to give three awards to physicians who have stood out in their level of volunteerism. The honorees are:

 

"Above and Beyond" award

Modern medicine puts Dr. Kevin Yoo in the position where he must bend over backward for fully insured patients with relatively minor problems while the uninsured, who often have severe conditions due to years or even decades of non-treatment, can't afford his services.

That's where Project Access comes in. The La Jolla neurosurgeon said he loves how the program allows him to reach across the insurance barrier — right to patients who really, really, really need his help.

"It allows you to tolerate the injustice of medicine as well as enjoy the fruits of your work," Yoo said.

Though he has volunteered with Project Access for five years, Yoo is getting the "Above and Beyond" award this year partly because he recently removed a tumor that was pressing so hard against the bundle of nerves in a woman's spine that she could barely walk.

After undergoing a three-hour surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla and completing her recovery process, the woman has regained her balance and should be able to resume a normal life, Yoo said.

Had the tumor kept growing, the outcome would have been drastically different.

 

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Dr. Kevin Yoo, a neurosurgeon in La Jolla. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / Union-Tribune) (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

"The amount of compression on the spinal cord would have left her without function, disabled and totally dependent on others," Yoo said.

He blushes a bit at the idea that he is getting recognized for his community service. The woman's tumor came out easily during the operation, he noted. And he wasn't the only vital person involved in the patient's treatment.

"I may be the guy that plucked a tumor out of this person's spine, but so much else went into it. My staff, my nurse practitioner, everyone is involved. I really shouldn't be the one receiving the award," Yoo said.

 

"Health Heroes Lifetime Achievement" award

If you want surgeons to donate their time and talents, first find an anesthesiologist.

After all, no matter what body part the surgeons work on, they all need an expert to safely put their patients to sleep.

When Project Access got rolling in 2008, Dr. Rosemarie Marshall Johnson had already worked in the local medical community for nearly 40 years. Having participated in many forms of organized medicine for much of that span, she had forged good relationships with most of the specialists in the area.

She turned out to be just the facilitator the new program needed, setting up meetings with old friends and asking them if they could volunteer their services every now and then.

She was surprised that practically nobody said no.

"I think in all of my years doing it, I had one physician say no, and that was because he had just come to town and didn't have an office yet. As soon as he rented space, he called us and said, 'I'm ready to do it now,'" she remembered.

In fact, she said, the program's volunteers are delighted to see patients with little or no financial means.

 

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Dr. Rosemarie Marshall Johnson is receiving the "Health Heroes Lifetime Achievement" award. (Eduardo Contreras / Union-Tribune)

"They seem to really enjoy seeing our patients. Many of them said, 'This is why I went into medicine,'" Marshall Johnson said.

She emphasized that the public should know the project's medical professionals are compassionate and generous individuals, and that patients who receive the charitable treatments are not freeloaders.

"These are people that want to get back to work, they want to take care of their families, and it's a joy to help them," she said.

Marshall Johnson pointed out that Project Access makes sure the volunteerism doesn't become a burden on participants' overall workloads. The program coordinates all the details of each case, from medications to CT scans, before the patient ever comes into a surgeon's office.

"We keep (our volunteers) around by doing all of these Mickey Mouse things for them," Marshall Johnson said.

 

"Health Heroes Champion" award

When Project Access patients book appointments with the IGO Medical Group, a La Jolla-based collection of obstetricians and gynecologists, they generally need to be seen quickly — and they often need surgery.

The issues are sometimes quite visible, said Dr. Wendy Buchi with the medical group. For example, certain patients have large fibroids embedded in their uterine walls that have pushed outward dramatically.

"Some of them have been as large as six-month pregnancies," Buchi said.

Dr. Keerti Gurushanthaiah from the group added: "We've seen ovarian cysts the size of basketballs."

Given that most of their patients have health insurance, the doctors said they usually don't encounter growths that get this out-of-control. If a woman has access to insurance, she generally would have these kinds of problems taken care of much sooner.

 

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Dr. Wendy Buchi, right, and Dr. Keerti Gurushanthaiah are part of the IGO Medical Group. (Hayne Palmour IV / Union-Tribune) (Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The clients referred to the IGO group from Project Access may not have had the chance to see an OB/GYN for a decade or more.

IGO physicians have treated about 80 Project Access patients since the group started working with the program. The team is being honored Monday for its broad commitment, with the help of Scripps Memorial Hospital, to helping women overcome serious medical challenges.

Buchi and Gurushanthaiah made it clear that their involvement with Project Access is not a one-way process.

"By seeing these patients, it does two things. We provide care to patients who haven't had access to care ... and it gives us exposure and experience taking care of patients we don't normally take care of," Buchi said.

"I feel like they give us a lot in return for what we give them," Gurushanthaiah added.

 

Source: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/health/sd-me-health-heroes20170326-story.html

 


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