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Angels of the OR

Ben Carson, with colleague Cliff Solomon, right, has formed a foundation to help the uninsured in need of life-saving neurosurgery.

Neurosurgeons Ben Carson and Cliff Solomon have seen enough people turning up in the Emergency Department with serious brain and spine problems to know that something’s severely wrong with the country’s health care system. With little if any health insurance, too many wait until they’re desperately ill before coming to the hospital.

“The sad fact is, they can’t get in for treatment, and by the time they do, they have one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave,” says Solomon, a member of the part-time faculty.

Rather than writing the situation off, the two neurosurgeons are trying to help by creating Angels of the OR. The nonprofit foundation provides neurosurgical care for adults and children with complex brain or spine problems who have insufficient or no medical insurance. Carson and Solomon have already raised more than $500,000, and they hope to expand the program beyond Maryland and establish a cooperative program among medical specialists nationwide.

They also hope the foundation will energize a serious nationwide discussion on health care insurance reform. “With the aging population, particularly with all the baby boomers, the current system is going to crash and burn,” says Carson. “I don’t see why we have to wait for that to try and claw our way out.”

Angels of the OR manages its finances much like a university, relying on the interest it earns on donations. The concept, Carson says, could one day work on a national scale. “Nearly one-seventh of the U.S. economy is health care related. What if the government was smart enough to put 10 percent of that into a national medical endowment every year for 10 to 15 years? It would end up with a corpus of about $3 trillion.”

The foundation faces several challenges, including navigating the health insurance bureaucracy and maximizing every dollar it raises. “To save money, we have board meetings at each others’ houses, and we’re getting any necessary legal work done pro bono,” says Solomon. He also hopes to strike partnerships with hotels and airlines to pay for patients who cannot afford transportation or lodging.

Angels of the OR represents the combined, previous efforts of both doctors to help underprivileged patients. In 2002, Carson had established the Benevolent Endowment (BEN) Fund to provide neurosurgical care for patients with no insurance. Solomon, meanwhile, had been rendering free neurosurgical care to patients with financial complications since he started his private practice 16 years ago.

Although the foundation would be considered by most a charity endeavor, Solomon says it’s anything but. “What we’re doing is an obligation for a society that believes in justice and equality. Everyone should get the care they need, not the care they can pay for.”

—Sarah Richards



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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