Twenty percent of Bay Area residents do not have health insurance of any kind. For people in these circumstances, trying to arrange for nonemergency but necessary surgery can be a long and frustrating process.
To better serve such patients, helping them receive the surgical care they need, Sutter Health has partnered with Operation Access. This nonprofit organization coordinates essential surgery to uninsured patients to relieve disabling medical conditions that pose hardships to them and their families. Through this partnership, Sutter donates the use of operating rooms, medical supplies, equipment and staff time — and many Sutter physicians also donate their time and expertise.
Norma Gonzalez is one of hundreds of patients who have benefited from the Sutter/Operation Access partnership. When she was referred for care, she had been coping with severe knee pain for six years. “I had nowhere to turn,” she recalls. “My knee was hurting so bad that I couldn’t stay
standing, and I was unable to work. It was a very sad and difficult time, especially because I was unable to care for my daughter.”
Orthopedic surgeon Paul Hughes, M.D., a volunteer with Operation Access and a member of Sutter-affiliated Mills-Peninsula Health Services in San Mateo, evaluated Norma’s knee and diagnosed a cartilage tear that needed surgical repair. “Because of this injury, every time she walked, the tear would pinch, causing a lot of pain,” he explains. “Without surgery, it’s possible Norma would have been permanently disabled and unable to work or provide for her family.” Dr. Hughes performed the surgery with life-changing results. “Since the surgery, I’m feeling so much better. I’m no longer in pain, and I’m back to work,” says Gonzalez. “I can take care of my daughter, play with her, and just live a normal life.”
In 2007, five Sutter-affiliated hospitals donated 223 surgical procedures, and 65 volunteer physicians donated their time. For Dr. Hughes, the experience is a uniquely rewarding way to serve those in need. “The main reason I do this work has to do with my Christian faith; I believe in giving back to the community,” he says. “I have the skills to help people, and
this allows me to apply those skills to help those that are less fortunate.”
- Norma Gonzalez