Thursday, December 16, 2010
Onix, the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, works full time as a housekeeper in Carmel. She, like 55 percent of families living in poverty in Monterey with a female head of household, doesn’t make a lot of money. Onix can’t afford to buy private health insurance – and yet she earns too much to qualify for state or federal assistance.
Onix is one of the “working poor” that we hear about with other dark phrases like “in need of a safety net.” She’s also the face of Natividad Medical Foundation’s Onyx Fund for Women.
When Onix’s daughter was born at Natividad Medical Center, her doctor found fibroid tumors in her uterus while performing a C-section. They needed to be surgically removed, but Onix couldn’t afford the $3,000 down payment. She took her baby home from the hospital and doctors didn’t see Onix again.
“We call them our ‘disappearing patients,’” NMF President-CEO Linda Ford says. These are uninsured patients, in need of surgery that’s considered elective, that don’t have money to pay for it.
“Our OBGYN group were very frustrated by this,” Dr. Peter Chandler says. “We encountered women with prolapsed uterus, fibroid tumors, bleeding and incontinence… You see people suffering.”
Ultimately, the cash-strapped hospital also suffers. When the women return, it’s for more extreme, expensive procedures. “If people have an emergency they go to the ER and we’re obligated to take care of them,” Chandler says.
Four years later, Onix returned to NMC. She was bleeding, and in pain. She worried she might die and leave her daughter alone. Her tumors had grown so large that she looked like she was nine months pregnant, doctors say. Despite her condition, Onix didn’t have surgery for another six months – it took her this long to earn and borrow $3,000 for the down payment.
Onix’s doctor, Ricardo Cuadros, suggested starting a fund to help women pay for gynecological surgeries. The OBGYN group talked with hospital officials and the foundation board.
In late 2009, Ford, a former jewelry designer, started the Onyx Fund for Women in honor of Onix and created a necklace, a sterling silver “O” with three onyx stones on a black cord, in her honor. It sells for $125, and $100 of that goes directly to the Fund.
The fund pays for the women’s down payment, between $500 and $3,500 depending on the surgery, and then the women set up a payment plan with the hospital for the remainder of the bill.
The fund has raised more than $91,000 to date. Six women have had surgery and another five are scheduled.
“The goal is to get women into surgery and out so they can be healthy and go back to work,” Ford says. “Some can’t work because of their health problems, can’t feed their families, can’t pay rent. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Today Onix is healthy and working.
“She’s doing great,” Ford says. “She’s such a courageous individual. She told me, ‘I now see purpose in what I had to go through.’”