The Florida Times-Union: “Changing lives: Who are this year’s Jacksonville health care volunteer champions?”
The Florida Times-Union, written by Beth Reese Cravey
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For almost 30 years WeCareJax has provided free primary and specialty care for uninsured Duval County adults.
And for 12 years the nonprofit has annually honored a few of the “incredible … volunteers who help make sure our uninsured neighbors in need can access health care when they need it most, at no cost to the patient or their family,” Executive Director Angela Strain said. The 2022 Caring Awards celebration will be Thursday.
What is WeCareJax?
Founded in 1993, WeCareJax is a network of volunteer doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, hospitals, community clinics and other partners. Since its inception, the network has grown to 500 or so volunteers and serves about 1,700 patients annually.
About $20 million in donated health care has been provided to uninsured adults living at 200% or below the federal poverty level, according to the agency. Those patients would otherwise not receive care or crowd emergency rooms.
The COVID-19 pandemic “uncovered so many gaps in our local health delivery system, and it is our volunteer physicians, providers, and nurses who step in and bridge those gaps every day,” Strain said. “Patients with serious and life-threatening illnesses are receiving the health care they need, despite being unable to qualify for or purchase health insurance or pay out of pocket for care.”
At least 13% of Duval County residents 18 to 64 years old do not have health insurance, according to WeCareJax.
“Over the past year, we’ve met new provider volunteers, brought in more patient case management nursing staff to support patients facing complex treatment plans and seen our physician and volunteer leadership meet the challenges left from more than two years of pandemic disruption,” Strain said.
One of those challenges, she said, is more diagnoses of cancer later in the course of the disease than ever before, due to a decline in patients accessing screenings like routine mammograms during the pandemic. It means cases take longer to reach remission and that more care is needed.
Who is being honored at the 2022 Caring Awards?
Because breast cancer cases made up the majority of WeCareJax’s cancer cases over the past year, two of the Caring Awards will recognize related contributions:
- The Dr. George Trotter Founder’s Award for Physician Service: Dr. Jennifer Crozier, a medical oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center whose area of special focus is breast cancer.
Crozier’s specialties include medical oncology, internal medicine and hematology with areas of expertise in breast cancer and clinical trials.
“Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most trying times in an individual’s life,” she said. “I want to do my part to make sure that all patients have access to state-of-the-art care and access to a supportive multidisciplinary team.”
Being able to provide that support to uninsured patients “is a rewarding feeling because I am able to help patients who are going through a complicated journey, educating them on their disease and how our team at Baptist MD Anderson can treat and support them,” she said.
WeCareJax shows that “our community sticks together,” Crozier said. “When one of us is faced with a health challenge, it impacts us all. It is critical for us to provide care to the uninsured and underinsured and we have many resources in Jacksonville to support the community.”
- The Sister de Sales Award for Outstanding Practice Administrator: Loriell Grossling, a licensed clinical social worker at Ackerman Cancer Center.
“Partnering with WeCareJax is an opportunity to live out some of the fundamental objectives of the health care system: treating individuals with dignity and compassionate care,” Grossling said. “By opening your doors to uninsured patients in our community, you get to change the lives of families in need.”
Other honors and their recipients are:
- The Freddie Webster RN Award for Nursing Excellence: Cindy Livings, RN, long-time nurse volunteer at WeCareJax
- Patient’s Choice Awards, physicians nominated by WeCareJax patients: Dr. Deborah Price, Nephrology Associates of NE FL, and Dr. Juan Carlos Muñoz, Borland Groover.
- Compassionate Specialty Care Awards, nominated by the staff and board of WeCareJax: Dr. Stephen Arndt, orthopedic surgeon, Southeast Orthopedic Specialists; Dr. Aneesa Krishnamurthy, rheumatology specialist at Ascension St Vincents; Dr. Lael Stieglitz, urology specialist, Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.
When and where is the event?
This year’s Caring Awards will be 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at River City Railway, 1738 E. Adams St. near TIAA Bank Field. In addition to the awards, the event will feature informational exhibits in the dozen historic railway cars on site; dancing and live music from Bold City Classics, The Voice 2021 Finalist Paris Winningham and Cortnie Frazier; and catering by Pastiche.