Published on November 13, 2013

We Care Jacksonville: Donated health care 'a way to give back'

By Beth Reese Cravey, The Florida Times-Union

She had moved to Jacksonville from West Africa, had a job at a hair salon but no insurance. In 2011 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Nene, 44, whose last name is not being used for privacy reasons, had no way to pay for treatment.

Neither did her mother, who moved to Jacksonville this year and received her own breast cancer diagnosis.

Both were U.S. citizens, but their fates were uncertain.

“I don’t know,” Nene said. “I was gonna die.”

Enter We Care Jacksonville, which Thursday is recognizing some of its health-care members at its fourth annual Caring Awards fundraiser. The coalition of health-care professionals and hospitals donates primary and specialty care to Duval County’s uninsured, homeless and medically under-served. Collectively they provided about 10,000 specialty care services valued at $16 million in 2012.

St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach, where Nene had her initial mammogram, referred her to the nonprofit. Subsequently, her lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment was donated, as was the chemotherapy her mother is receiving.

“They helped me,” Nene said, clearly grateful.

Among the honorees Thursday are North Florida Surgeons, which has been part of We Care since its inception 20 years ago and treated Nene and her mother.

Jefferson Edwards, one of the firm’s surgeons, said the honor was “humbling and appreciated.” What should be celebrated, he said, is the coalition’s longtime history of meeting a community need.

“It was and is well-managed. People go through a process,” he said.

Eligible patients are referred to a network of primary care clinics where they receive free basic care.

Clinics refer patients to specialists for diagnostic tests, consultations, surgery, cancer evaluation and treatment and rehabilitation.

When patients have nowhere else to go, “we are one answer for them,” Edwards said. “We feel blessed to have the opportunity to do it.”

Gordon Polley, another member of North Florida Surgeons, said the work is gratifying.

“This is a way to give back,” he said. “We do it regardless of whether we’re honored.”

The patients they help through We Care “are so grateful,” Polley said. “Most of them are the sweetest and most caring.”

We Care was founded in 1991 by George Trotter, a Jacksonville oncologist/hematologist who recruited a handful of doctors for the cause.

The network now has 590 volunteer physicians and about 300 additional volunteers — physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and community volunteers — at 10 partner primary care clinics. Also, all the Jacksonville hospitals donate services, as do independent imaging and surgery centers.

In addition to the surgery group, the 2013 Caring Awards honorees are the Duval County Medical Society and Daniel Lestage, a former health insurance company executive and We Care board member who is an adviser to the nonprofit.

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