Fighting with grace and determination

michelle walker and christine schultz
Social worker Rebecca Sizemore (not pictured), nurse Michelle Walker, and physician assistant Christine Schultz are among many helping Melissa deal with her grim prognosis, obtaining medication donations from drug companies and accessing Winship’s Patient Assistance Fund.


 

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From the Executive VP

Charity care in Emory Healthcare Overview
• Expanding the boundaries of care
• A gift of time
• Fighting with grace and determination

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For a month, Melissa was beset with headaches, blurred vision, dizziness.

She was driving to a doctor’s appointment when her mind seemed to go blank. At the local emergency room, they told her she had had a seizure, that her car had careened off the highway. Two days later, after being referred to Emory, she learned she had an aggressive, inoperable brain tumor. Shocked, at first all she could think was that it had such a pretty name: astrocytoma. Star-shaped tumor. 

Forty-three, on her own, with two kids in high school, Melissa tried valiantly to balance family and work with daily radiation treatment. Strong medications kept seizures at bay and battled the stage IV tumor; other medications worked to minimize nausea, fatigue, and other side effects of the first drugs. Then, when she thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. 

Less than two months after her diagnosis, she lost her job and with it her health insurance. Medicaid began to cover some, not all, costs of care. Two months later, she received her first disability payment from Social Security, and Medicaid simply vanished. Melissa had worked just enough years, paid in just enough money, that her disability payments were just high enough to make her ineligible for continuing Medicaid coverage. 

Always independent and responsible, she found it hard to tell Dr. Alfred Voloschin, the neuro-oncologist in charge of her care, that she had no way to pay for care, not his, not the outpatient rehab helping her maintain balance enough to walk, not the increasingly frequent hospitalizations. Voloschin didn’t seem concerned about the money, only about her. Did he not understand how much money she was talking about? “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “Let’s focus on you.” 

Voloschin, his physician assistant Christine Schultz, nurse Michelle Walker, and social worker Rebecca Sizemore set to work. Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute declared her case charity care, meaning it would not expect to be paid. Mounds of paperwork and many phone calls later, the team persuaded pharmaceutical companies to provide thousands of dollars worth of medications for free. When Melissa ran out before the next shipment arrived, the Winship Patient Financial Assistance Fund bridged the gap. As Melissa became increasingly weak, the team worked with her to find hospice care. At the time of this writing, Emory Healthcare had quietly written off almost $80,000 in charges at Winship and Emory University Hospital. The aggressive brain tumor will prevail in the end, but it could not beat Melissa’s efforts to make things easier for her family—or Emory Healthcare’s determination to help.

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Community Benefits Report Cover 2012