Lee County head and neck surgeon, Anthony Anfuso, MD, donates his time to care for uninsured patients through the We Care program. The Fort Myers News-Press chronicled how Dr. Anfuso worked together with local physicians to help one patient overcome lip cancer.

Lee County doctors donate millions of dollars in care to the uninsured through We Care

By Craig Handel

As the days neared for Samuel Tipton to have lip surgery, he said he felt like a little kid at Christmas.

Come again?

Most people dread surgery. They fear their lives will change for the worse.

Not Tipton. It would be a relief to get rid of a tumor from his lower lip – a blob the size of a tennis ball.

“It was like a little monster, dude,” he said.

In the past few years, Tipton couldn’t contain the monster because he had no insurance.

He felt like an outcast. He considered suicide.

Finally, he and mother, Lena, learned of a program called We Care. It’s a nonprofit human services and health care collaboration through United Way, Salvation Army and Lee Health that helps uninsured residents gain access to specialty medical care.

Jim Nathan, former CEO of Lee Health, credits Dr. William Evans with bringing the idea of We Care from a medical society meeting to Fort Myers in the 1980s.

“There was a lot of passion around the program when it first got started,” Nathan said. However, a variety of challenges led to doctors dropping out of the program.

Nathan said conversations with Sally Jackson, former Lee Health system director, government and community relations, and Joe Catti, FineMark National Bank & Trust president and CEO, led to Catti contacting 16 physicians to a dinner in 2010.

“We wanted to reignite We Care,” Catti said. “We were looking for physicians to donate their time and be more than casually involved.”

Connections were made with Cliff Smith of United Way, Daisy Ellis of Salvation Army, Julie Ramirez of Lee County Medical Society and Family Health Centers to create community partners.

Since 2011, more than $52 million in donated care has been provided to more than 2,000 patients.

In 2017,  479 providers in Lee County gave $9.2 million in nearly 3,000 hours of donated care to 320 patients.

We Care is believed to be one of the largest county programs in the country.

“It’s definitely a collaborative effort,” said Dr. Anthony Anfuso of 21st Century Oncology. “Typically, I’ll do the entire procedure myself but with having cancer patients, there’s a lot more that goes into surgery.

“And we give them the same care as anyone else.”

Click here to view the full story on the News-Press website.