Medical Community Steps up to Make A Difference for People in Need

As part of the 24th annual Make A Difference Day, a national day of community service, Santa Rosa’s 4th Street Laser & Surgery Center was the site for 29 free eye surgeries for Sonoma County residents ineligible for any type of insurance. The event was held on October 24th with 35 volunteers.

eye docs photo trio


Make A Difference Day is a USA WEEKEND initiative. In collaboration with Points of Light and Paul Newman’s Newman’s Own Foundation, the three organizations select ten national finalist awardees.

The 4th Street Laser & Surgery Center and Northern California Medical Associates’ Eye Care Institute ophthalmologists, Gary Barth, Robert Anderson and Daniel Rich were joined by ophthalmologist Sonja Schluter and anesthesiologist Jeff Kuhn. The other volunteers were from the Eye Care Institute staff, surgery center staff and for the first time, nursing volunteers from Memorial Hospital’s ambulatory surgery center. The volunteers involved in making the day a success vowed to return for the next Make A Difference Day. Proving volunteerism is contagious, Dr. Barth said, “success breeds enthusiasm for the project.”

Operation Access is the organizing charity behind the complicated logistics required to screen the patients medically, as well as, financially. Operation Access was founded in 1993 and arranges free medical procedures for those in need.

This is the third year that Operation Access and the Eye Care Institute surgeons have collaborated to provide free pterygium surgery primarly for field workers and laborers who develop the debilitating corneal growth due to the constant exposure to wind, dust and sunlight.

In 2014 Operation Access and the surgeons were awarded the USA WEEKEND Make A Difference Day award in a ceremony in Washington DC. Out of 1500 applicants, ten were chosen for the award. The Santa Rosa surgery day was the only one of the ten that was a medical volunteer event. The president of Newman’s Own Foundation gave Dr. Barth and Daniel Rabkin of Operation Access a $10,000 check to be used for future free surgeries.
The concept of “paying it forward” is evident in the community benefit of receiving this financial award. All those Newman’s Own products we buy locally generate the profits that are donated. The award is a perfect example of how small purchases can make a huge difference. “It’s the idea that we’re all part of the loop.” Dr. Barth said. “By winning the financial award, the money we spent comes back to Sonoma County to help provide charity medical services.

Dr. Barth also volunteers in Nepal, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma) and India to provide free eye surgery and teaching. In those countries, health care protocols are different than in the US, making it easier to treat a high volume of patients in a short period of time. That model of high volume and high quality, is what stands out about 4th Street Surgery Center’s success. Dr. Barth re-envisioned this strategy in order to accomplish the 29 surgeries in a single day.

4th Street Laser & Surgery Center is an eye surgery Center of Excellence; nowhere else in the north bay does a free standing surgery center focus solely on eye surgery, performing almost 2,000 procedures annually. For more information about NCMA’s Eye Care Institute visit their website or call 707-546-9800 in Santa Rosa. For information about Operation Access call 415-733-0052.