Person of the Week: Surgery on Sunday Doctors Give Free Health Care to the Uninsured

Doctors and nurses volunteer their time, treating Kentucky's uninsured for free.

July 16, 2010, 12:10 PM

July 16, 2010 — -- It's Sunday and Dr. Andrew Moore isn't taking a day off in his Lexington, Kentucky, neighborhood. Instead, he scrubs in and spends his day tending to a carpenter's torn ligament and removing another man's hernia. Moore does all of this for free.

"When I graduated from medical school, I took the Hippocratic oath and part of that oath is that you're supposed to take care of people regardless of their ability to pay," Moore said. "Surgery on Sunday is just sort of the fulfillment of that oath."

Moore founded Surgery on Sunday in 2005. It's a nonprofit organization where doctors and nurses volunteer their services for free the third Sunday of every month, working in donated surgical space at Lexington Surgery Center.

Together, they are this week's "World News" person of the week.

"The mission of Surgery on Sunday is to take care of the people that fall between the cracks," Moore said. "They're not eligible for federal programs such as Medicare or Medicaid and they can't afford health insurance."

The Kentucky native, who has a plastic surgery practice, wanted to find a way to help the people the health care system seemed to forget: the working poor who don't qualify for federal health care programs but can't afford insurance.

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46.3 million Americans are uninsured. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 14.8 percent of Kentucky's population, 626,000 people, are uninsured.

Community groups in Lexington, Kentucky, refer the working poor to Surgery on Sunday.

People come from hundreds of miles away to Surgery on Sunday. They are not financially obligated to pay for anything. Private grants and donations fund the procedures.

On average, Surgery on Sunday saves the Medicaid program $22 million each year and hospitals $25 million.

'We're the Vessel'

The program, nicknamed SOS, has helped 3,300 people -- people like Dale Smith, who couldn't afford the medical care he needed without the program. On the Sunday that ABC News visited SOS, Smith was getting a hernia removed.

"I've been looking forward to holding my granddaughters and picking them up," Smith said. "I haven't been able to do that for quite a while now."

Doctors and nurses perform just about any procedure that can be done in an outpatient facility: removing gall bladders, tonsils, ear tubes, cataracts and even skin cancers.

"For people like Dale Smith, we're the vessel," Moore said. "When they send out the SOS signal, we're the vessel that's going to rescue them and going to pull them from the waters."

Moore and his army of surgeons, nurses and volunteers might help their patients live healthier lives, but Moore said that the patients really deserve the recognition.

"I don't think it's hard for me to come in on a, quote, day off," Moore said. "It's something I look forward to and, I think, everyone here looks forward to."

Other doctors echoed Moore's feelings.

"You get a bear hug from one of the family members and that goes a lot farther than another dollar in your pocket," one general surgeon said.

Another doctor said, "These are the type of people that I got into medicine to treat."

Moore said that he looks forward to the third Sunday of each month.

"When you take care of a person that comes in your office from Surgery on Sunday, it's not an obligation; they're otherwise not going to be cared for" Moore said. "You get a great deal of satisfaction because you know when taking care of that patient that you're their only hope."

To learn more about Surgery on Sunday, click here. To visit Surgery on Sunday's Facebook page, click here.

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