Bernardino Juarez looks like an ordinary, young and joyful man. He is a construction worker living in Hollister and the proud father of a 5 year-old boy who loves soccer. On the outside, he seems relaxed and content with life, but deep inside, he confesses that there is something that doesn’t let him live in peace: he is uninsured. “What if something happens to me and I can’t afford to pay for health care?”
This past year, Bernardino’s fear became a reality when his hernia became too large to ignore. He had consulted a specialist at a health clinic by his house, but he was told that his only option without health coverage was to see the social worker and wait for the lengthy referral process to take place. However, the hernia was so noticeable that a friend felt compelled to talk about his brother who died of a burst hernia and begged him to do something about it. Bernardino was worried and felt trapped. On one hand, he couldn’t do the heavy work required by his construction job and had to take lower paying jobs. On the other hand, he didn’t have health insurance or the money to pay for the right treatment. Bernardino’s hopelessness and stress led him to gain weight, lose sleep and struggle with drinking. With tears in his eyes, “I had even considered leaving my son behind and going back to Mexico, but the possibility of not seeing him ever again was too sad for me to bear.”
In desperation, Bernardino followed the advice of a friend and drove over 20 miles to the Gardner South County Health Center in Gilroy. He wasn’t expecting much, and to his surprise, he was not only offered a consultation appointment within 24 hours, but it was actually affordable! There, he learned about “Surgery Day,” a program made possible by a partnership between Operation Access, Kaiser Permanente and Gardner Health Services aimed at providing free vital surgical procedures to the uninsured in our community.
“When they called me back to confirm that I qualified for this program,” Bernardino recalls, “it felt like winning the lottery.” On March 21st, 2015 a team of medical professionals volunteered their time to treat Bernardino and others like him. Now that his health is restored, Bernardino is back to working his regular job and can play freely with his son.
“This partnership offers the most valuable opportunity for us at Gardner to help the most vulnerable patients,” said Dr. Ranjani Chandramouli, Medical Director. While people like Bernardino often find many doors closed, this collaboration “allows us to open a door for them. And this is, without a doubt, the core of our mission at Gardner.
Bernardino is enthusiastically grateful for this opportunity and everyone who made it possible. “Life is priceless. Thank you for seeing me as a human being and for serving everyone regardless of skin color, language, or how much money they have.”
Operation Access is eagerly planning a second Surgery Day for October 24th, 2015 and the staff at Gardner is actively looking for the next round of patients who, like Bernardino, could benefit from this life-changing program.