Hero Central: Volunteer doctors impacting Polk County

3:47 PM, Jan 7, 2011   |    comments
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Winter Haven, Florida - The ability to afford healthcare is a growing concern for many Americans, but for the uninsured there's a larger problem: untreated medical conditions.

Fred Nichols experienced some problems with his vision. While he wanted to see a physician, he also knew he didn't have insurance and couldn't afford to have his eyes checked.  He worried until he found a state program that assisted him in getting medical care.

"The program connected me with some doctors who were volunteering their services in the community. They helped me and I appreciate each one of them," Nichols said.

We Care is a not-for-profit program in Polk County that assists people with serious medical problems with volunteer medical specialists and clinics in the county. The program was started by the Polk County Medical Association and has been in existence since 1999.

Dr. Gary Schemmer, an optometrist with an office in Winter Haven has been volunteering his services for "We Care" since its inception.

"A lot of the patients we take care of are out of work because of their medical conditions, and unfortunately some them will not be able to get back into the workforce. So it's good for the country and good for the community to help these people," Schemmer said.

The program is state and county funded and while that helps the program connect patients with healthcare specialists, the funds do not cover other related medical costs.

"We depend heavily on donations from the community to help get patients their medications, to get different kinds of diagnostic testing that they need and without those donations, we really wouldn't be able to any more that get the patients to see a doctor," said Sandy Swanson, executive director of the We Care of Polk County.

The healthcare program works closely with the county-run indigent care plan and volunteer medical clinics to help people who are financially struggling in the county.

A patient's income must not exceed 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, and they must have been a resident of Polk County for the previous six months. In 2010, more than $2.4 million in specialty medical care was donated by their volunteers.

Medical specialists play a major role in linking patients in need with the program and the patient must have a serious medical condition.

Services are limited to conditions which are significantly medically necessary/life altering and cannot be treated or managed by the primary care provider. We Care staff works diligently to ensure the patient is able to follow the provider's recommended treatment plan at no or little cost to the patient.

Services not provided include second opinions, screenings of any type (other than mammograms), pregnancy care, birth control, injuries from auto accidents, routine care, cosmetic surgery, and workers comp cases.  

The program is actively seeking donations and can be reached at 863-701-8070 or you can email questions to: wecarepolk@aol.com The program says donations are tax deductible and greatly needed at this time.

If you would like to nominate someone to be a Hero, please email me at mbeal@wtsp.com

Melvin Beal, 10 News

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