North Bay health care providers draw national attention with free surgeries

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In only its third year of participating in Make A Difference Day, Operation Access has been awarded the All Star Award, for its effort to bring health care to those in need. Only one organization receives this award from across the country each year.

Santa Rosa ophthalmologist Gary Barth, M.D., accepted the award and a check for $10,000 at a ceremony in Washington D.C., May 12, presented by NBC News anchor Lester Holt and television personality Andy Cohen on behalf of Gannett Company and TEGNA Foundations. Operation Access provides surgical and specialty care for the underserved in the Bay Area.

“My team thrives at Operation Access events on Make A Difference Day,” Barth said. “We are enthusiastic about the opportunity Operation Access gives us to volunteer as a group and help people in need. And we’re excited that other medical professionals and hospitals across the Bay Area were part of our team this year. This award belongs to every volunteer who made it a successful Make A Difference Day.”

Last October, 200 volunteers, four hospitals, and a surgery center in the Bay Area participated in San Francisco-based Operation Access’ initiative, for a total of 78 procedures, triple the amount from the first year.

Doctors, nurses, interpreters, and other medical professionals provided services in six distinct medical specialties. All of the clients served on Make a Difference Day were referred to Operation Access by local community clinics.

Barth led a team of volunteers at the 4th Street Laser & Surgery Center in Santa Rosa, providing about 30 eye surgeries to those who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Other facilities participating were Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers in Santa Rosa, San Rafael, San Jose, and Fremont.

Clients served on Make A Difference Day can now see, read, drive, and work without visual impairment; they can now hear without constant ear pain; they now walk without the pain of a debilitating hernia or varicose veins; and colon cancer was either detected or prevented, averting years of suffering and costly treatment.

After its first year of participation, Operation Access had received a $10,000 national award from Newman’s Own, making the organization eligible to win the All-Star Award this year.

Founded in 1993, Operation Access partners with health care providers to perform free outpatient surgeries and give surgical consultation to uninsured individuals. In 2015 it provided 1,641 donated surgical procedures and diagnostic services to low-income, uninsured individuals in nine Northern California counties, through partnerships with over 1,500 volunteers and 47 surgical facilities.

In collaboration with Points of Light, Make A Difference Day is a USA TODAY initiative, backed by the Gannett Company and TEGNA Inc.

CORRECTION: Operation Access was the only organization to receive the All Star Award, rather than one of 10.

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