Hearts for Charitable Care

By Katy Mena-Berkley
Friday, November 1, 2019

Three clinicians discuss their inspiration to give back through medicine.

Suzanne Landis, MD, MPH, Founder, Project Access of the Western Carolina Medical Society

When Dr. Landis moved to Asheville, North Carolina, in 1987, she was troubled to see a population of low-income, uninsured patients who did not have access to essential care for chronic conditions.

“One had diabetes, and she was not old or debilitated enough for Medicare and not poor enough for Medicaid,” Dr. Landis says. “She could not afford all of her medications or her labs and X-rays. … That was unacceptable to me.”

Dr. Landis volunteered to provide clinical services where she could and collaborated with fellow physicians who were willing to do the same. But she would run into challenges covering the costs of labs and X-rays.

“We needed to develop a system where everyone could participate and donate care,” Dr. Landis says. “Based on a lot of my personal and professional experiences and [those of] some of the other physicians and nonphysicians in this working group, we developed Project Access.”

A grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped Dr. Landis implement the Asheville-based program, which provides comprehensive medical services, including labs, optometry and X-rays, as well as durable medical equipment, to low-income, uninsured patients.

Project Access physicians care for uninsured patients the same way they would patients with coverage, ordering lab work and dispensing medications at little or no cost to patients.

“It is all part of this network of care, and it’s much more efficient,” Dr. Landis says. “If you have a system of charitable care which makes it easy for physicians to participate, in the end it really is better for everybody.”

Seth Stanton, OD, optometrist, Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans

Throughout his career, Dr. Stanton has been inspired to give back to underserved communities.

“There are a lot of people out there serving the patients that have insurance coverage. Those people have a lot of choices,” he says. “The people that I do the majority of my work with do not have those choices.”

For seven years, Dr. Stanton has worked as a provider at Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans, an organization that provides primary and preventive care to communities in need.

“There is a huge demand. I am probably the most booked-out optometrist in my city,” he says. “Someone can come in and see me for a fairly short period of time, and I can do something fairly simple in giving them a prescription for a pair of glasses and fundamentally change how they live their life in a single visit, which is a really cool thing to be able to do.”

Dr. Stanton also helps connect patients with other charitable organizations that deliver care to the uninsured.

“The part that is really stimulating mentally is this additional, ‘How do we figure out who is going to provide this care, and how will it be paid for?’” he says. “It is like a puzzle.”

In addition to his work with Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans, Dr. Stanton is the Chairman/CEO of Miles4Migrants, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity that helps refugees transition to their new homes. He also takes annual trips to Honduras, where he works with Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, a collective of optometrists who provide care in developing countries.

“There is less administrative burden and more medical challenge in caring for people with complex conditions but limited resources.”
— Laurel Williston, MD, St. John Family Medicine Physician and Medical Director for Good Samaritan Health Services

Laurel Williston, MD, St. John Family Medicine Physician and Medical Director for Good Samaritan Health Services

For almost two decades, Dr. Williston has been devoted to caring for medically underserved individuals in her community.

“My entrance into medicine was motivated by the desire to help those who most need it but have the least access,” she says. “I hope to make a difference in the lives of those who are often overlooked, whether through medicine or simple human dignity.”

Through Ascension St. John/Ascension Medical Group, Dr. Williston offers clinical expertise. Additionally, she helps remove barriers to care through her work with Good Samaritan Health Services (GSHS), a nonprofit that delivers care to the poor and uninsured in Tulsa, Oklahoma. GSHS achieves this goal by bringing physicians, medicine and mobile labs directly to communities in need.

“The work is very gratifying because even though not every patient is grateful, many of them are,” Dr. Williston says, “and I can often see a real difference in their health and attitudes over time.”

She says the return to a simpler physician-patient relationship is rewarding to many of her colleagues as well, reminding them why they chose their profession.

“Providing charitable care matters to the patients and to the community but also to you as a physician,” Dr. Williston says. “It can help improve your mood, your energy level and renew your love of medicine.”

Nothing is more satisfying than when a patient’s health improves to the level that financial assistance is no longer necessary, Dr. Williston adds. In some cases, these patients are inspired to give back by volunteering their own time, bringing charitable care full circle.