PANAMA CITY — After Dr. Kamel Elzawahry had patient after patient come visit him in the early 90s who could not pay for medical treatment they needed, he decided he had to do something about it.
“I created BayCares along with the late Dr. Widdle, in 1992, because I saw a need for medical care for the uninsured,” Elzawahry said. “There are decent hard working people who cannot afford medical care, in particular specialty care, that just fall through the cracks.”
BayCares was spearheaded by the two doctors and the Bay Medical Society; the Bay County Health Department joined to support the administrative side.
BayCares provides free specialty care for residents who do not have medical insurance, Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance. Patients can not exceed the State of Florida’s 200 percent poverty guidelines, must be United States citizens and must live in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Wakulla, Walton or Washington counties to qualify.
“Originally it was just in Bay County, but other BayCares started in other counties because we have many specialty doctors here,” Elzawahry said.
The successful free specialty medical care program has donated millions of dollars worth of care to residents in the 10 counties in the past year. The treatment is donated by doctors, nurses and hospitals.
“I am very thankful to the hospitals, Sacred Heart, Bay Medical and Gulf Coast, along with my colleagues who have joined in,” Elzawahry said. “Everyone is charitable in this area. It’s one big community.”
Elzawahry regrets that BayCares can’t help everyone. Money is not unlimited and neither is time.
“BayCares has done a lot for people, especially in this dire economy, but we are stretched too thin,” Elzawahry said. “The doctors and hospitals donate the time and money to these patients. Sadly, we cannot help everyone.”
The patients that are helped through BayCares and the care they receive is a great reward to Elzawahry.
“To be rewarded by appreciation, to see the patients feeling well, it means the world to any physician,” he said.