When Abelino Garcia fractured his wrist, the Urgent Care medical physician told him he would need surgery. That surgery was estimated to cost $15,000. His source of income is from contract work as a carpet installer. $15,000 is a bill Garcia could not even think of paying with their income level and on top of that, he was now out of work.
The Bonita Springs resident sought help from Café of Life, which connected him with We Care. We Care is a program administered by the Salvation Army Fort Myers Command in collaboration with United Way, Lee Health/Lee Community Clinics, Lee County Medical Society, and the Department of Health that helps low-income men and women with medical services.
Patient Coordinator Jacqueline Galindez says, “To qualify for help from We Care, a person must be a Lee County resident with a life-altering condition. Their income must fall below 200% of the federal poverty level, be uninsured and not eligible for any other government programs, and be between the ages of 19 and 64.”
Once a person is accepted, Galindez reaches out to one of the approximately 200 medical specialists in the program to see if any are willing to help, without compensation for their time or skills.
Dr. Peter Ameglio
In Garcia’s case, Galindez contacted orthopedist, Dr. Peter Ameglio. Although he is known for SuperPATH® total hip replacement and treating SI joint dysfunction, orthopedic surgeons are trained in the care of all bones and joints. Dr. Ameglio not only enjoys maintaining those skills but also likes treating the whole person.
“Mr. Garcia had a fracture of the distal radius eight or nine months prior to seeing me. The ends of the bones were not even in the same zip code so it left me very few options,” explains Dr. Ameglio. Basically, he could not use his hand because it was no longer properly connected to his arm.
Dr. Ameglio fused Garcia’s wrist and he is now back to work and living without pain. The surgeon took Garcia’s case for a number of reasons, “He is Spanish speaking and he could not get or afford care. I come from Panama; I understand that level of poverty, as I’ve seen it first hand. He came here for a better life and I felt for him.”
Garcia has been out of work since last September. He has a six-year-old daughter and his wife has taken on grueling jobs such as picking tomatoes to support the family. Not able to provide for his wife and daughter and holding back tears, Garcia says, “I was depressed and felt like I was less of a man. Dr. Ameglio gave me hope that my hand will be OK and that I can get back to work. It will change us financially and mentally, being able to provide for my family as I always have.”
Dr. Ameglio says, “I think everyone should have access to healthcare. The fact that he is 47 years old and one fracture takes him out of commission for life is tragic. The technology is available to fix these things, it’s just access to care.”
Although We Care connects those in need with physicians who can help solve an issue on the front end, patients still need assistance on the back end. For instance, Galindez says, “Our specialist can remove a cancerous tumor, but we don’ t have the means to pay for chemo if that is needed or any other medication that a patient may need.”
The operating expenses for We Care come through grants and donations. Galindez gets 100 calls a day asking for help and her cases are backed up for months with people like Garcia waiting for help.
More funding would allow We Care to hire another patient coordinator to help. Her vision is to see other Salvation Army organizations, across the state and nation, adopt We Care to serve the medical needs of low-income residents so that they can get back into the workforce.
We Care also helps with dental. Galindez says, “All of the credit goes to the specialists. Without them, we wouldn’t have a program. They take their time to see patients for doctor visits and surgeries so they can go back to work, provide for family and contribute to our society. We are so grateful to them.”