Operation Walk helps people back on their feet
Nonprofit program started by New Albany surgeon provides free joint replacements to the poor
On Dec. 7, 215 people considered to be at poverty level received free joint replacements through Operation Walk USA, a program started by New Albany resident and orthopedic surgeon Adolph V. Lombardi Jr.
The Dec. 7 effort required the help of 109 surgeons in 49 hospitals and 29 states. Thirty-six surgeries were performed in central Ohio.
Lombardi said he and another doctor, Keith Berend, had been volunteering to perform joint replacements in other countries, such as Guatemala and Nicaragua, when they decided to start a program closer to home.
"We decided to give back to our community and take care of ourselves because we have as many people in need as there are in international communities," Lombardi said.
Operation Walk USA was founded as a nonprofit organization in 2011 with the mission of providing knee and hip replacements for the "uninsured or underinsured," people considered to be at 100 to 200 percent poverty level, Lombardi said.
It began with initial contributions from the surgeons and has received financial support and in-kind donations from individuals and organizations throughout the health-care community.
Lombardi said the enthusiasm the program generates among those closest to patients -- nurses, administrative staff and anesthetists -- is matched only by the generous donations of companies.
He said hospitals donate space and services and companies that make replacement joints donate implants used in the surgeries.
"It will be challenging in the future to keep this program viable with legislative changes that could be taxing," Lombardi said.
He cited a 2.3-percent federal excise tax that will be charged on medical devices starting in 2013. He said he is unsure how that will affect the medical companies, which have donated nearly 3,000 implants for Operation Walk USA and its affiliate group, Operation Walk International.
The excise tax is part of the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, and it will be charged to manufacturers with the sale of each medical device, including "an instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, contrivance, implant, in vitro reagent ... intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions or in the cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease," according to the IRS website.
Lombardi said even with health-care changes nationwide, there will be a need for Operation Walk USA, which, he said, has been extremely successful and surpassed all his goals.
One of the unforeseen benefits has been finding people who thought they were ineligible for government assistance and linking them with services they already should be receiving, he said.
Lombardi said when completing screening for the 36 surgeries performed in central Ohio Dec. 7, the team identified another 30 individuals who were eligible for Medicare or Medicaid and didn't know it.
"That was something positive I hadn't thought about," he said.
Lombardi has been in practice in New Albany for 25 years and is one of the founders of the Mount Carmel New Albany Surgical Hospital, initially started in 2003 as the New Albany Surgical Hospital. It later became affiliated with Mount Carmel.
The hospital in late November was recognized as a "top performer on key quality measures" by The Joint Commission, an independent nonprofit organization, and was given a Press Ganey Associates Summit Award for patient satisfaction. It is the hospital's seventh year to receive both.
According to a press release, Press Ganey Associates "administers patient satisfaction surveys for hospitals and health-care systems and provides national comparative databases."