Last year, Central Florida-based Shepherd's Hope provided 19,674 free patient visits and medical services to the region's uninsured; 17 percent (3,360) of whom were children. That total number was up 13 percent from the previous year, in part due to the influx of an estimated 200,000 Puerto Rican Americans who evacuated to Central Florida following hurricane Maria and needed access to a variety of services, including healthcare.
The growing capacity demands on Florida's largest free and charitable clinic are immense. Helping Shepherd's Hope provide access to high quality, compassionate medical care in 2017 were 2,800 licensed medical and general volunteers, three community hospital systems, and 100 diagnostic/secondary providers. Adalberto Torres, Jr., MD, is one of these volunteers.
Torres is a pediatrician certified by the American Board of Pediatrics to practice pediatric critical care, and a Fellow of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Critical Care Medicine. He currently serves as chief of critical care at Nemours Children's Hospital and medical director of the hospital's Clinical Logistics Center and Respiratory Care Department.
He earned his MD in 1986 from the University Of Illinois College Of Medicine. He also holds an undergraduate degree from Loyola University Chicago and a Master of Science from the Medical College of Wisconsin. Today, he helps educate the doctors of tomorrow as professor of pediatrics at the UCF College of Medicine.
Torres joined Nemours in January 2012. He was a key player in developing the policies and procedures for both the pediatric ICU and critical care transport program at Nemours Children's Hospital, and assisted in recruiting many of the physicians who were practicing there when the hospital opened its doors.
In 2017, Torres received the Don Quijote Professional of the Year award from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. The 20th annual award recognized community recipients for their vision, courage and impact on Central Florida - qualities exemplified by the classic literary character of Don Quijote.
Torres describes his work with the sick children at Nemours as incredibly fulfilling. But, he says being able to offer hope and healing to the patients at Shepherd's Hope who can't pay him back is one of the most rewarding parts of his job. Here, he shares his thoughts and experiences serving as a medical volunteer.
- Why did you choose to volunteer at Shepherd's Hope?
I believe you need to do more than just live and work in a community, you need to give something back to it.
For physicians, we all went into medicine to help people. But, that purpose can get lost in the day-to-day business of healthcare, from documentation and electronic medical records to dealing with insurance companies. Helping patients who would not otherwise have access to medical care reaffirms the feeling that you're doing something good.
- Talk about the volunteer work you do with Shepherd's Hope.
I started volunteering in 2014 when Nemours first partnered with Shepherd's Hope to provide annual back-to-school physicals. Then, in the summer of 2016, I expanded my involvement to provide a pediatric clinic twice a month, seeing kids with both acute and chronic problems at the Dr. Diebel, Jr. Memorial Shepherd's Hope Health Center in east Orlando. The patients are so grateful to be able to see a physician and make sure their kids are okay. You can't help but feel good about the time that you spend there.
In addition, I am honored to join the organization's board of directors this year, serving alongside an outstanding group of community leaders who are committed to furthering the mission of Shepherd's Hope.
- Is there a memorable patient encounter that is especially meaningful to you?
It was the first day of my first regular pediatric clinic at the Diebel Center. A family brought in their son with severe abdominal pain. I was certain he had appendicitis and immediately referred him to the hospital for surgery. If Shepherd's Hope had not been there for the family that day, this young man's outcome would have been much worse because of a delay in access to care.
There are also kids who come back to see me on a regular basis. One is a young man with ADHD. His mom is a homeless single parent whose biggest concern is that her son succeeds in school. Because of the treatment and medication he receives through Shepherd's Hope, we have eased this mom's anxiety and her son is doing better in school. It is very rewarding knowing we are helping him reach his potential.
- What would you tell other physicians who may be interested in volunteering at Shepherd's Hope?
First, I would say it's very easy to get started as a medical volunteer with Shepherd's Hope, without a lot of hurdles to jump through. They streamline the process with online forms and handle the work of obtaining sovereign immunity from the State of Florida.
Once you start volunteering, there is a lot of support. The staff is wonderful. And, there are college kids with an interest in medicine who serve as volunteer scribes to help alleviate a lot of the paperwork and keep the patients moving through the clinic.
I've heard other volunteer physicians describe the experience this way. You show up after putting in a long day at the office or the hospital. You make the drive in rush hour traffic to get to the clinic. But, when you walk through the doors and see that first patient, you realize the impact you're making and that makes it all worthwhile.
- When you're not working or volunteering with Shepherd's Hope, what do you enjoy doing?
My wife and I are RV enthusiasts. We just bought our fifth recreational vehicle and will be driving it to Illinois this summer to visit our grandkids. I also have tickets to attend the four-day Bonnaroo Music Festival with my daughter in June. I'm a big fan of live music, and this will definitely be a bucket list experience.
The number of uninsured and underinsured patients who seek medical care from Shepherd's Hope increases with every passing year. And, each year, some have to be turned away because there are not enough volunteer medical professionals like Dr. Torres.
To learn more about how to become a Shepherd's Hope volunteer, contact Volunteer Program Manager Abby Seelinger at (407) 876-6699, ext. 233, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.shepherdshope.org/volunteers.