In the early morning hours of Saturday, April 9, Venice Family Clinic patient Loren Abraham, 42, changes out of his street clothes and into a blue gown on the third floor of Kaiser Permanente’s West Los Angeles Medical Center. In a few minutes, he will be in surgery, but he is remarkably at ease.
“Normally, surgery is something you would avoid,” he says, “but actually I’m very much looking forward to this.”
For more than a year, Abraham’s life has been turned upside down by a hernia that has kept him from working, exercising, even sleeping at times. In the process, he has lost his health insurance and developed mental health issues.
“I don’t have a lot of education, so I usually have jobs that require a little more physical activity,” he says. “So the importance of getting this surgery is greater to me. It’s at a point where just basic functions have gotten pretty difficult.”
There are thousands of low-income and uninsured Angelenos in Abraham’s dilemma, in which they are unable to work because of their hernias or other conditions, but, without income and often lacking substantial savings, they cannot possibly pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for surgery. Usually, their only option is surgery at a County hospital, but wait times there can be more than a year for hernias.
This pervasive and chronic need compelled Kaiser Permanente to organize the quarterly Surgery Access Day. A part of Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit program, Surgery Access Day is a collaborative effort between Kaiser Permanente and local community clinics that provides donated surgical procedures to uninsured and underinsured patients.
“It’s central to who we are as an organization and as people. We care about our communities,” says Todd Sachs, MD, FACS, Assistant Area Medical Director for the Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, who has participated in each of the Surgery Access Days since he spearheaded the program here in late 2009.
“It’s so gratifying to help these patients because they’ve been suffering for months, sometimes years, with hernias and gallbladder disease. For us to be able to help them is a wonderful thing.”
And Kaiser Permanente does it all through the help of volunteers. On this particular morning, 20 Kaiser Permanente staff members—from surgeons and anesthesiologists to nurses and medical assistants— are gathered on their day off.
“Everybody is very eager to volunteer,” explains fellow surgeon Jan Takasugi, MD, who, like Dr. Sachs, has volunteered at each of the Surgery Access Days in West Los Angeles since 2009. “In fact, there’s always a line of people who want to get involved.”
The Surgery Access Day is now a key component of the Westside-South Bay Specialty Care Coalition—a partnership between Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles, Venice Family Clinic, South Bay Family Health Center, Westside Family Health Center, COPE Health Solutions, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, UCLA Health System, Little Company of Mary, and Saint John’s Health Center. To date, 36 low-income and uninsured patients have accessed free surgeries through Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles’s Surgery Access Day.
A few days after his surgery, Abraham is at home, resting and looking forward to his recovery.
“I have to put the pieces back together, slowly, but it’s nice that I can look forward to getting back to the way my life was,” he says. “I’m very appreciative for the operation and for Venice Family Clinic and Kaiser for setting it all up. Big relief. It’s a very positive thing. I’m just happy.”
This story appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Encounters. Click here to view the entire newsletter.