It is just before 7 o'clock Wednesday morning as Dr. Kevin Petersen scrubs for a hernia operation at Medical District Surgery Center. Just another day for the surgeon who has become best known in Las Vegas for offering low-cost, cash-only surgeries to uninsured patients, most of whom come from out of town.
However, Nov. 15 won't be just another day at Medical District Surgery Center.
That is the day that he and other doctors will do free surgeries on uninsured individuals without the means to pay for medically necessary elective operations -- conditions such as hernias, gallstones, skin cancers, uterine fibroids and cataracts that don't pose an immediate threat to a patient but that can progress to life-threatening.
"What we will essentially be doing is helping the working poor, people who fall through the cracks when it comes to health care," Petersen said. "The impoverished qualify for government programs. But these are people who may be self-employed, who have bad credit and can't get a loan, people without insurance who are living paycheck to paycheck."
Petersen, the driving force behind the formation of Helping Hands Surgical Care, a nonprofit foundation with a mission of funding and facilitating surgery for the uninsured, said the impetus for the organization's inaugural charity surgery day came from the growing numbers of people showing up at his office desiring care, but without the means to pay for it.
"These are people who often go to emergency rooms for years with pain because of things like gallstones and hernias," Petersen said, "but because what they have is not deemed an emergency -- something a hospital must take care of under the law -- they're just stabilized, given some pain pills and a referral to a surgeon. Of course, they never end up having the surgery because they can't afford it."
Other doctors offering their care free of charge on Nov. 15 include urologist Michael Vernia; plastic surgeon Cameron Earl; spine surgeon Yevgeniy Khavkin; otolaryngologist and facial plastic surgeon Jeannie Khavkin; anesthesiologist Albert Khavkin; gynecologist Ronette Cyka; cardiologist Allan Stahl and ophthalmologist George McMickle.
About 10 surgeries, which could easily run hundreds of thousands of dollars in a hospital, are expected to be performed in the three operating rooms that the Medical District Surgery Center is donating next month.
"In the past, this has been a tradition in American medicine, but we've sort of lost focus in the country," said Joe Dylag, an administrator at the surgery center at 2020 Goldring Avenue, near University Medical Center.
"Every facility did charity work and things got done. We're glad to be part of something that Dr. Petersen started. We're also donating our staff. We want to be part of a fine tradition."
To inquire about patient qualifications for surgery, call 242-5393 or go to HelpingHandsSurgical Care.com.
Other medical professionals or individuals who wish to donate services or money can also contact the foundation.
Petersen said he expects many people to try to avail themselves of the free care.
Cardiologist Stahl, who is on the review board that decides who will get the surgeries, said, "We will prioritize."
Stahl said he and other doctors that are part of the newly formed foundation feel they owe something to the community.
"Yes, we have to earn a living," he said. "But if we can help people who need it and can't get care, we want to help. We have a service that can help the community."
Plastic surgeon Earl, who wants to help children who have scars that either hold them back from participating in social activities or result in teasing, said far too often insurance doesn't cover deformities that can do lasting psychological damage.
"I hope we can do this more often," he said.
Urologist Verni said the surgery center doesn't have all the technological equipment necessary for complicated urological surgery, but he can still safely remove tumors and fix blood vessels.
"A majority of doctors used to do a lot of pro bono work until reimbursements for our work became such a difficulty," he said. "We're struggling to make our overhead."
Verni said surgeons would like to do far more surgery to help people but often are limited because of having to negotiate with facilities and anesthesiologists.
"It's so nice that we have that taken care of next month," he said.
Anesthesiologist Khavkin is excited to be in charge of anesthesia for the procedures next month.
"I think doing this kind of thing is an important part of our society," he said. "This is pretty much something I've done over the years and am glad to do."
Petersen said he is reaching out to the entire business community to support the new foundation.
"With their help we can make this work on a regular basis," he said. "I expect this to work over the long term. Other surgical facilities will have to step up, too. I know there are many other surgeons who want to help out people in need. It's just a question of getting it organized."
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2908.