According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 17 percent of Nevada’s children under 18 are uninsured, an abysmal 49th in a state-by-state ranking. While it’s a sad fact that serious injuries and illnesses are consequently left untreated, those medical issues that are considered “cosmetic” stand no chance of receiving treatment. Yet, don’t these issues have a serious impact on a child’s quality of life? It’s a question that Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno asked in 1997; the answer was Project New Hope.
The program was founded by: Kit Landis, RN, BSN, MS, Saint Mary’s Operating Room Manager; Chris Loar, RN, Saint Mary’s Operating Room Clinical Supervisor; and plastic surgeon Dr. Charles Virden. Project New Hope offers families without insurance, or who are underinsured, the opportunity to have same-day medical procedures for their children. These include plastic surgeries, ear nose and throat treatment, ophthalmology, orthopedics, general surgery, vascular surgery, urology procedures and dental procedures, as well as diagnostic tests like CT Scans or MRIs.
“A typical example would be a child with some type of deformity in the face, or with a scar or burn,” explained Landis. “Something like that wouldn’t be covered by insurance because it’s cosmetic or not necessary because the child is still functioning. However, it’s something that has caused the child to be ostracized.”
Landis said such children often do poorly in school, have few friends, little or no self-esteem, and even wind up in gangs. In one instance, a teen with a terrible scar had been excluded by his peers, but he had found acceptance in a gang. “He was serving jail time when we repaired his scar,” Landis said. “He got out of the gang, got out of jail on good behavior…I got a call from the social worker a year later, and he was doing so well that he was married, had a job and had a child on the way. He totally turned his life around, and that (surgery) was a big reason why.”
Project New Hope has galvanized the entire Saint Mary’s community; all surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and assisting staff volunteer their time and the hospital donates all facilities and equipment. Vendors donate money, supplies or medications. The program has now grown to include U.S. Navy medical units from Fallon, firemen, medical and nursing students, school nurses and residents of the community willing to donate time or money.
Each spring, one Saturday is set aside to provide 10 or 12 children with a much-needed procedure. “There’s a special spirit on that day,” said Landis. However, Project New Hope is a year-long program that will treat any eligible child at whatever time seems appropriate, as long as the resources are available.
Patients range in age from six months to 18 years, and have been referred through school nurses, pediatricians, Saint Mary’s mobile outreach program Kids’ Korner, Children’s Cabinet, social workers, Indian colonies or the Nevada State Health Department. Patients come from anywhere in the state. “I’d say, if you can get the child here, we’ll take care of them,” said Landis, who would eventually like to see the program grow to include patient transportation, local casino hotel room donations for patients who aren’t local and even a mobile unit for patients in rural areas.
“We had one kid who was born without one ear,” remembered Landis. “He was made fun of his whole life…We took pictures before we put the bandages on, and that was the first thing he wanted to see. When he saw them, he lit up. It still makes me cry. He just thought it would never happen.”
Project New Hope
Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center
65 Regency Way
Reno, Nevada 89509