Opening Many Doors for the Uninsured
“Some people see things as they are and ask, why? Others dream things that never were and ask, why not?” ~ George Bernard Shaw
Seeing the possibility of what might be in providing healthcare for all Polk County residents is exactly how Rick Renardson, Executive Director for We Care of Polk County is approaching his task. In Renardson’s own words, he explains, “The opportunity to assist needy folks in attaining specialty healthcare by facilitating the connection with volunteer specialty health care providers drew me to my association with We Care.”
In 1998 the Polk County Medical Association implemented their We Care of Polk County program, which is a network devised of aligned volunteer physicians and healthcare providers. Their mission is “to ensure access to specialty medical care for low income, uninsured residents of Polk County. They are not eligible for any source of funded medical care, are desperately in need of specialty medical care, and have no where to turn for help, except [to a We Care physician].”
Renardson came on board with We Care in November 2011 after a twenty-six years long career as a Certified Surgical First Assistant in Winter Haven. Growing up in Winter Haven, Renardson was educated in the local public schools and went on to attend Florida State University. He served as a U.S. Army medic and surgical specialist during Vietnam and later trained at Vanderbilt University as a surgical assistant.
The vision to see a way and facilitate the means to medically treat the uninsured of the community is a part of Renardson’s objectives. “There is quite a bit of free and low cost healthcare available in Polk County, but most of it is either emergency care or what is referred to as primary care. Many patients need additional, specialty care. The needs have continued to grow and We Care attempts to keep up with this demand through the ongoing recruitment of providers and facilities to provide the needed care.” Through the volunteer program of We Care, doctors are meeting quintessential medical provisions for citizens.
There are other challenges Renardson and physicians face on the way to realizing We Care’s vision of medical care for all Polk County residents. Renardson makes the contrast between the doctors’ zeal and generosity to provide medical treatment for the underprivileged with the uncertainties in our current medical industry and the abatement of reimbursement. “The most challenging aspect is getting the patient the definitive care that can come only from a facility willing to donate the care that is needed,” He elaborates. “It is important to note that many medical facilities are dealing with an increased need to care for patients that are uninsured in an environment of increased costs and decreasing reimbursement. There is one hospital in the county who has been very generous in their support of our efforts and we continue to seek support from all avenues.”
The pressing need for improvement in medical care provision is constantly prevalent and Renardson says, “The medical environment continues to change and the model of healthcare delivery must be prepared to change with it. We strive to be aware of the changes that impact us and respond in a fashion that allows us to continue to provide care to those that need it most.” Not only is Renardson working to address these needs, he’s also alert to the broader picture for theses patients’ medical care. “The greatest needs for the We Care program are to have additional facilities willing to donate procedural care,” He observes. “By doing so and treating patients before their circumstances become critical the burden on emergency departments could lessen.”
Overall, in a presently evolving medical environment, physicians and specialists aligning together will aid in making a heavy burden lighter. As the English playwright John Heywood said, “Many hands make light work.” Renardson likewise points out that they are continually seeking physicians to join We Care, which evenly distributes the workload of caring for the uninsured. Simultaneously, they are seeking institutions to contribute in specialized treatments. “We have many specialties covered,” Renardson continues, “but often a patient needs a procedure, involving diagnostics, surgery or other treatment that the provider alone cannot give.”
There are numerous encouraging facets to the humanitarian efforts of We Care of Polk County and its executive director. “The most fulfilling aspect,” Renardson shares, “is when you have a patient who gets treatment and is able to return to a normal, productive life. Fortunately, we have many success stories, and on a regular basis the folks we help show their gratitude. Additionally, We Care is privileged to be the administrator of a Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Florida Suncoast Affiliate grant that provides several hundred mammograms and other procedures yearly for low-income county residents. This grant is supported through the Race for the Cure, being held for the second time this coming January in Lakeland.”
text by J.P. Smith
photo by PEZZIMENTI