Carrell Clinic Foundation is a shining example of how innovative, charitable health care models deliver high-quality health care to underserved patients at little to no cost.
Memorial Day weekend 2022 was certainly memorable for Dr. William Robinson.
It was Friday afternoon, and the clock was ticking toward the end of his shift at the Carrell Clinic. The Dallas, Texas facility is one of the nation’s best for orthopedics and a perfect fit for Dr. Robinson’s spine surgery practice and his compassion for helping those in need.
By 3:00 p.m., Dr. Robinson was just hours away from heading out of town with his wife for the holiday weekend when Krystal Dallas came through the door. She was in excruciating pain and numb from the waist down. She could barely walk, and she was incontinent.
“Her symptoms were exactly consistent with a very rare and incredibly serious condition called cauda equina syndrome,” recalls Dr. Robinson.
He immediately ordered an MRI and, stunned by the results, cancelled his weekend plans and whisked Krystal into surgery.
“This was one of the biggest disk herniations that I had ever seen in my life,” he says. “I removed 4-5 inches of disk material from her lumbar spine. Imagine having a 5-inch rock in your shoe but instead of your foot, it’s a nerve that’s getting crushed.”
The experience was a whirlwind for Krystal. “I literally didn’t even have time to tell my husband that I was going into surgery.”
It was also nothing short of a miracle.
The Carrell Clinic Foundation provides low- or no-cost treatment that no one else provides
“I have been relatively healthy all my life, and when I started a new job I got severe back pain. I thought it was from lifting heavy things at work,” says Krystal, a 26-year-old mother of three. “My back hurt, but I just pushed through it thinking I’d just get through it all.”
But by May 2022, the pain was unbearable. She didn’t have health insurance, and her household income was just enough to disqualify her for government-sponsored health insurance. So, she did what most people in that gap do: she headed to the emergency room.
“I went to two hospitals, and they told me it was [a common nerve pain called] sciatica and that I’m too young to have problems like this,” Krystal recalled. “So, I went home and basically gave up. I thought, ‘I guess I’ll just be in chronic pain all the time.’”
As her condition deteriorated, Krystal grew desperate and began to search online for help that was low-cost or free. That’s when she stumbled upon the Carrell Clinic Foundation (CCF), a grantee of Stand Together Trust (STT).
Founded in 2017 by surgeon partners of the Carrell Clinic in Dallas, CCF’s work is a natural extension of the world-renowned Scottish Rite for Children — a charity hospital for children with orthopedic deformities established in 1922 by Carrell Clinic founder Dr. W.B. Carrell and a group of Masons.
CCF treats underinsured or uninsured patients with musculoskeletal conditions who have aged out of children’s charity services like Scottish Rite. Some are patients who turn 18 and attend school or aren’t yet in the workforce. Others drop out of their parents’ private insurance at age 26. Still others, like Krystal, fall into a coverage gap between private and government-sponsored insurance.
Whatever the situation, these patients often turn to hospital emergency departments where treatment, as Krystal found out, is often nothing more than triage. Many of these young adults simply give up and try to live with their pain or ill-fitting prosthetics for too long.
“We’re not limited to the 18- to 30-year-old range, but we’re targeting young adults with these medical challenges who are struggling trying to find their way,” says CCF’s Executive Director Christiana Mouser. “We want to empower them to get back on their feet, literally and figuratively.”
Musculoskeletal conditions are often complicated, expensive to treat, and can limit dreams and possibilities for young people. Some, like cerebral palsy and scoliosis, strike at birth or in early childhood. Others might involve traumas or injury, like Krystal’s back pain, and require surgery or amputation. For amputees, who are among the biggest portion of people helped by CCF, prosthetics alone need replacing every five years or so and can cost more than $30,000 without insurance.
The Carrell Clinic Foundation is creating a network of providers
To meet these needs, the foundation has built partnerships with top medical talent — physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and facilities — who donate their time and talent to give patients the care they need without the hefty medical bills and stress they don’t need.
Partner providers include Hanger, Inc. with 800 prosthetics and orthotics labs across the country, United Surgical Partners International with 460 surgical facilities nationwide, Rothman Orthopaedics with over 100 surgeons in five states, Baylor Scott and White health systems, OrthoForum with more than 400 surgeons in five states, and the generosity of caring donors.
CCF funds orthotics, prosthetics, mobility equipment, joint replacements, and surgeries at discounted, charitable care rates. Christiana — and her staff of two — have created an efficient, seamless process so patients get fast treatment and never see a bill.
“We have prearranged discounted rates and Charity Care agreements in place with our provider partners. We communicate directly with them, and we send them the payment. There’s no need to look up codes or unbundle everything,” explains Christiana. “And the patients are getting tremendous care because of these physicians who donate their time to perform surgeries.”
Dr. Robinson, paired with Krystal by Christiana’s team, is one of these surgeons. He grew up in the Dallas area and was himself treated at the Carrell Clinic for various orthopedic injuries. Drawn by both his personal experience and the clinic’s stellar reputation in orthopedics, Dr. Robinson says he trained hard at the best hospitals in the country hoping he could one day work at place like the Carrell Clinic.
As luck would have it, the clinic was in the market for a new spine surgeon just as he was wrapping up his spine surgery fellowship.
“Going through the rigorous path of becoming a spine surgeon is instantaneously gratifying when you have the ability to take people out of severe nerve pain,” he says. “Being able to do that for patients of the Carrell Clinic Foundation is an absolute honor and privilege.”
It’s a win-win for everyone involved. “Talking with our recent recipients and seeing how their lives have really changed for the better has been so rewarding,” says Christiana. “And as wise stewards of our resources, we ensure we are getting the best value for our dollar.”
Christiana also points out that CCF’s stewardship extends to aftercare — physical therapy and other follow-up treatments.
“It’s not like the surgery is over and patients are stuck thinking, ‘How will I ever walk again?’ Or ‘How am I going to use this arm again?’” she says.
For Krystal, the partnership between CCF and Dr. Robinson continues to be a lifeline. Amid her efforts to walk normally again, a brand-new health scare flared up.
“My arms are starting to go numb. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if I have a herniated disk in my neck region, so I talked to Dr. Robinson today and he scheduled an MRI,” says Krystal. “I don’t know where I would be without CCF except that I would be way, way worse off.”
“I can’t say enough that everybody’s just so great. And Dr. Robinson? He’s amazing,” she adds. “He dropped everything to give me surgery and every time I see him, I feel like I’m talking to a friend. He really genuinely cares.”
People coming together to fill critical health care gaps in ways that make everyone a winner is a template for helping even more people lost in these gaps through no fault of their own. CCF doesn’t just serve patients. It also serves as an inspiration for social entrepreneurs looking to leverage their own passion for helping others to create revolutionary, necessary health care opportunities.
To learn more about the Carrell Clinic Foundation, visit its website.