Need a zero cost way to provide free surgeries?
Set up a donor-advised fund in a community foundation
In the past, it's been much easier to provide free surgery to uninsured persons in your community because pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers were free to donate to such efforts. However, new federal regulations have impacted such donations, which makes it more difficult for outpatient surgery programs to provide such surgery.
"The cost of providing free surgery just went up," says David W. Shoemaker, MD, founder/director of cataract and lens replacement surgery at the Center for Sight in Sarasota, FL.
At the same time, large numbers of persons are unemployed or have lost their health insurance. Shoemaker's facility has come up with a solution that could be replicated across the country for any type of surgery or medical care. The solution was to set up a donor-advised fund in an already existing community foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The other option, setting up a 501(c)(3), is fairly complicated and expensive, he says. By going to an existing foundation, your administrative costs are almost zero, Shoemaker says. "The end result is that 100% of all money donated goes directly toward purchase of necessary supplies for surgery," he says.
The community supports the foundation through tax-deductible donations. Two days a year, the center offers free eye surgery to patients who have a surgically correctible condition and no others means to pay, Shoemaker says. The program has existed for 16 years, and the total value of donated services is $2.4 million.
The center piggybacks much of their effort onto the Mission Cataract campaign that already has a national reputation. (Web: http://www.missioncataractusa.org.) However, the Center for Sight has expanded its free surgeries beyond cataracts. To publicize the surgeries, employees wear buttons that say, for example, "Ask us about Mission Cataract Miracles still happen." Also, the center uses banners and newspaper advertisement to solicit patients, says James Dawes, chief administrative officer at the Center for Sight. The center also reaches out to community shelters, religious organizations, and referring doctors to spread the word, Dawes says.
Money has been raised for the foundation in a variety of creative ways. When Shoemaker was married a couple of years ago, he asked for contributions to the foundation as wedding gifts. The fund is publicized through office materials, he says. "People who are sitting in our reception area are touched by it and want to help out," he says.
The foundation also has sponsored "Dinners in the Dark." Members of the community are invited to a dinner, as well as a blind tasting at which they are blindfolded so they can experience blindness temporarily and understand the purpose of the foundation. Additionally, they hear recorded testimonies from patients whose lives have been changed. The testimonies also are available on the foundation web site: cfsfoundation.org. Social media, including facebook, also has been used to drive traffic to the web site.
One caveat to keep in mind when setting up such a fund is that you need a good community foundation as a partner, Shoemaker says. "It's not necessarily simple for them to do this," he says. "They have to want to help you."
The advantages of such a program extends to your employees, Dawes says. "We really are connecting to the community, and we see how we're changing people's lives," he says. "It helps them connect spiritually to their career choice, whether they are at the front desk, or a scrub tech, or an optometrist or surgeon." (For information on how a foundation can be set up to award scholarships, see "ASC foundation awards $58,000 in scholarships," Same-Day Surgery, December 2012, p. 133.)