Andrew Moore ’71 doesn’t operate without his family.Literally.
His mom greeted me at the Lexington Surgery Center’s reception desk one Sunday in April. Then he and his wife, Kitty, strolled into the lobby to welcome me some more. Elsewhere in the building that day his brother and nephew attended to a patient’s nose cancer.
The family connections don’t stop there. Surgery on Sunday (SOS)—which provides free operations to patients without insurance or government assistance—reflects the philosophy of Moore’s physician father. “I don’t know if in the entire time that he practiced he ever turned somebody down because they couldn’t pay,” said Moore, who also runs a plastic surgery office with two brothers and a son-in-law.
Since he founded SOS in 2005, Moore has received much acclaim, including being named a CNN Hero.
Other Surgeries on Sundays inspired by this one are in the works around the United States—possibly in cities such as Dallas, Louisville, and Indianapolis. One is up and running in Omaha. “Once I got started and I saw how successful it was and how much fun everybody was having, it just seemed it should be shared across the country,” Moore said. While he has copyrighted the name “Surgery on Sunday,” similar programs are free to use it.
Expanding to other cities could cut down on patients’ drive times. SOS has drawn participants from throughout Kentucky and each surrounding state. “We’ve got people traveling six to eight hours to get health care when they ought to be able to get it in their own communities,” Moore said.
He didn’t know SOS would become so popular. It has served a little more than 5,000 outpatients total and treats between 20 and 30 during a typical session. There is an SOS once a month at the Lexington Surgery Center and once a quarter at St. Joseph Hospital.
About 80 physicians volunteer for the non-profit project—usually 10 at one time. The staff also includes social workers, interpreters (about a third of patients are Hispanic), greeters, high school and pre-med students, medical residents, nurses, and other medically inclined members of the Moore family.
“If you look at the health care profession in general, they are people who like to help people,” Moore said. “You know that you’re helping somebody that wouldn’t otherwise be helped. You’re really making a huge difference in their life.”
When I was there, Moore wore a white dress shirt and khakis instead of blue scrubs as he walked the halls, scanning clipboards, chatting with a hernia patient, slapping volunteers on the shoulder, hugging them. He asked one man where he planned to fish later—“Well, good luck,” Moore said and moved on.
“Even if I’m not operating today, just being around these people, you leave with a feeling of joy and peace,” he said. It tends to soften negative, day-to-day emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger. “It’s a hard feeling to describe, but it’s a nice feeling.”
Moore said he has always felt a need to serve his community. “I realized how fortunate I am to be where I am. I just felt it was a way to give back and have fun doing it.”
When he first started his practice, he could call a hospital and say he knew of a person who needed a free procedure, and the hospital would perform it. Now factors such as HMOs complicate matters. “It got very hard just to make a single phone call and get somebody taken care of,” Moore said.
Although the government is expanding insurance coverage, Moore said if Obamacare survives it will still leave 22 million uninsured. “I live for the day that some health plan will put us out of business,” he said.
Until then, though, if patients have reasonable jobs—if they can otherwise support themselves—but don’t have health insurance, hospitals and doctors can collect fees that are perhaps twice as much as what insurance companies pay.
“You’ve got the people who can least afford it paying full price,” Moore said. “So they actually get penalized for not having health insurance.” He said most bankruptcies in the United States are health-care related.
These are people contributing to society. “They just need a little helping hand to get back up on their feet.”
One of the first SOS patients was a man from Bowling Green, Ky., a concrete worker who owned a business and a small house and had a family. He injured his knee on a job and didn’t have workers’ compensation. A doctor told the man he could fix the knee but it’d cost $30,000. He didn’t have it.
The state wouldn’t help until he had been disabled for two years. Moore said 80 percent of people who are disabled that long never work again.
“Here you’ve got a man, working hard, paying taxes, and we’re asking him to be disabled for two years and struggle to make ends meet. We did his surgery, and three weeks later, he’s back doing what he wants to be doing, what he’s capable of doing.”
Therefore these free surgeries help more than just the patients, who soon return to productive jobs and are not collecting disability.
The savings are huge. For instance, if Medicaid had paid SOS for its services, it would have cost the government about $25 million a year.
Also, the nature of a surgical operation gives a physician a shot at eradicating a problem, unlike some drawn-out treatments for chronic illness.
“I’m attracted to the fact that you can make a living and help people and change their lives at the same time,” said Moore, who besides being chairman of the board for SOS is president of the medical staff at the Lexington Surgery Center.
“I come from a long generation of physicians and health care providers,” he said. For a start, his dad was a plastic surgeon and his mother was a nurse.
After graduating from Transylvania, Moore earned his medical degree from the University of Kentucky, did his residency in North Carolina and Tennessee, and considered several locations across the country for his practice. “Family drew us back more than anything,” he said. “I wanted to be surrounded by family.”
He joined his father Andrew’s practice 30 years ago. One of his brothers, J. Michael, graduated from Transylvania in 1972 and joined shortly afterward. The other members of his practice are his brother Sherwood and son-in-law Joe Hill, who began this past fall. Having this kind of “family practice” poses some challenges. “We’re all very different, and you sort of have to respect that,” Moore said. “Everybody gives each other enough space.
“It’s not that we don’t have disagreements every once in a while, but it’s pretty important to resolve them because of the relationship outside the partnership.”
Before he began his career, Moore transferred to Transylvania from the University of Kentucky and met chemistry professor Monroe Moosnick. “He sort of took me under his wing and mentored me,” Moore said. “He didn’t have to reach out and help me as much as he did. He took extra time to make sure that I came by the office, and he’d sit down and chat with me about my future and things that I needed to do.”
Moore’s time at Transylvania had a huge influence on his life. “It’s such a small campus. You knew all your professors and took two or three different courses under them while you were there. There is a genuine feeling that they not only wanted you to get the material that they were teaching you, but they cared about you as an individual.”
As the Transylvania faculty reached out to Moore, he reaches out to others. “When somebody does that for you, you don’t want to disappoint them and their faith in you,” he said. “What teachers get out of the profession is how their students do. I certainly wanted to give back to the teachers who took their time with me.”