Over the last two decades, one of the largest gatherers of publicly provided data has been tracking the percentage of Americans who say they have — or a family member has — postponed medical treatment due to cost.
The good news is that, in 2020, the result dipped to a low that Gallup pollsters haven’t seen since 2004. The bad news is that it came in at 26% or one in four individuals, still a high number when you consider the ramifications of delaying necessary medical intervention amid a global pandemic.
But, thanks to a new fund designed to help those in need of short-term assistance, some patients at UPMC North Central Pa. will no longer have to postpone medical treatment due to financial hardship.
Established in the fall of 2020, the Benevolent Care Fund is an entirely donation-driven program that provides aid to patients who otherwise would have no means to pay for physician-prescribed medications, transportation to appointments, infant care necessities, medical equipment and supplies, and medical co-pays.
According to Stacy Moore, a licensed social worker and manager of social services for UPMC Williamsport, the program not only offers patients financial support but also educational guidance.
“We try to make connections in the community for longterm solutions, but we also provide short-term help with this program — the program not only offers patients financial support but also educational guidance.”
The Benevolent Care Fund isn’t the first of its kind for UPMC North Central Pa., but it is the most robust.
A previous program called the MAP Fund was rolled into the Benevolent Care Fund after staff at various levels advocated for an expanded program that could help patients struggling to pay for potentially life-altering services, medication, and other supplies.
Much of how the new fund operates hinges on the process involved when UPMC North Central Pa. discharges a patient from the hospital. A registered nurse case manager or social worker will talk with the patient about financial matters and explain how the program can help with funding if it’s needed.
“We want to make sure that you can afford whatever treatment has been recommended to you as a patient,” Stacy says. “Some people have excellent insurance coverage, but others do not.”
A panel of employees that consists of the manager of social work at UPMC Williamsport; a UPMC Hillman Cancer Center patient navigator or financial advisor at UPMC Williamsport, Divine Providence Campus; and the personal care home administrator of The Laurels coordinates distributions from the fund. If the amount needed is $150 or less, social workers and personal care home administrators can grant immediate approval. The panel must review and approve funding involving larger amounts.
The Susquehanna Health Foundation not only distributes the funds but also raises them, a mission that has benefited from a series of very generous donations.
The Harry Plankenhorn Foundation gave a considerable gift, as did Dave Steinbacher, who established the Karen Steinbacher Endowment in support of the Benevolent Care Fund. In addition, St. Luke Lutheran Church has played an ongoing role in supporting the fund and UPMC patients in North Central Pa.
In total, nearly 100 donors have contributed to the new fund.
“People are donating their hard-earned money to help other individuals, which has been greatly appreciated by recipients of the funds,” Stacy says. “I’m most proud of the number of patients who have been touched by this program. It helps ensure that no matter who you are, you will be given dignity and respect.”
Thus far, the program has helped patients with travel expenses and transportation for both routine cancer care and specialty care in Pittsburgh, as well as prescriptions for many patients. The fund also has been a blessing for COVID-19 patients who required home oxygen after leaving the hospital but who otherwise would not have been able to afford it.
The Benevolent Care Fund is still in its infancy, and administrators are continuing to refine the program so that it will have an even greater impact in the future. Stacy says she speaks for the entire team when she thanks the many donors who have already made a profound difference in the lives of recipients.
“We really try across the board to get to know people and make personal connections,” she says. “We have the ability to sit down with patients, get to know them, get to know their support system, celebrate with them, rejoice with them, and grieve with them. They are unique and special to us and not just a number.”
Donate online to the Benevolent Care Fund, or please contact the Susquehanna Health Foundation at 570-320-7460.