Q&A: Ana Goncalves, founder
As the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is at issue nationally, one Knoxvillian is taking access to health care into her own hands.
In 2012, Ana Goncalves started Rescuing Health, an organization dedicated to filling the gaps in health care coverage for East Tennesseans. The 501(c)(3) organization aims to provide individuals with financial assistance for health care treatments and connect them with other existing—and often disparate—charitable health care groups. The organization’s website acts as a crowd-funding platform for individuals who are in transition, face barriers to health care access, or don’t qualify for assistance programs.
Goncalves, who is originally from Brazil, seems to have an endless list of jobs, from teaching veterinary ultrasound workshops to working as a Reiki practitioner and massage therapist to acting as a board member for the Knoxville Montessori School. Through her work as a massage therapist, she encountered several people who were sick or suffering but could not afford medical care. So Goncalves set out to help those people who had fallen through the cracks.
“This country has a lot of resources and a lot of people who are willing to do good just because it’s the right thing to do,” Goncalves says. “And I decided instead of just getting angry, I would channel my anger into something productive and make a change.”
In her view, access to health care is a right, not a privilege, and Rescuing Health is one way to cut out the “middle man” in access to treatment.
What does the process look like for someone seeking help through Rescuing Health?
I have flyers that I distribute, so there are some people that might pick up a flyer and there’s a phone number they can call and a website. So if they call the number, they’re going to get me directly. And I will do a brief interview to figure out what their need is and figure out a way to get the paperwork to them.
Once we have the paperwork, I usually share just the pertinent information with the board, meaning: This is the situation, this is what’s going on, and this is the need. And then the board usually approves pretty quickly. And depending on the amount, ideally we would like to fundraise for people and that’s the idea of the website.
But in reality, what we’ve encountered is that people need something right away. When we started as an organization, we had maybe $2,000 in donations in the bank. And with that $2,000 we’ve been advancing the help to people and then trying to fundraise afterward.
What kind of impact have you seen so far?
One of the first people we helped actually was a refugee who’d been here for many years. He’s a single father of two and he had quit his job because he was getting trained to be a truck driver. He didn’t get a job right away, so he was in between jobs, he had no health insurance, and he had asthma. So what he’d been doing is using his asthma medication— instead of every day—just when he had a crisis. And asthma medication doesn’t work well for that. It’s not a rescue drug.
So he filled out paperwork and we went and got him a month’s supply of asthma medication that was over $280. He didn’t have a job yet, so we decided that we were going to apply with the drug manufacturer for a drug assistance program. Those are not very easy to find, but we found it and we enrolled him in the drug assistance program and he was granted it, which gave him another three months’ supply of the asthma medication. So by the time that supply was done, he already had a job with health insurance and he was able to continue his treatment.
So we have helped a lot of people in this transition period. We helped a gentleman who was 75 years old and had had his second kidney transplant. He lived out of the state of Tennessee, but his surgeon lived at UT and he needed help getting to his appointments after the transplant. He needed help with gas money, so we helped him with $225 for him to come back to his appointments right after the transplant.
What have been the major issues you’ve seen with the health care system and barriers to access?
In this country, the problem here is that you have to be poor enough to get Medicaid or you have to be old enough to get Medicare. And so if you don’t make the cut, you can’t get that…
Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act, with all the good intentions that it had—and don’t get me wrong, it’s better than what was going on before—it’s a very broad law that didn’t really plug the gaps that we had in health care completely. And now, there’s only one product being offered in the marketplace in Tennessee.
If you have a country where health care is not a right and it’s a privilege, you’re going to have problems. Your country’s as strong as your health and education are concerned. When education and healthcare are privileges, you’re going to have problems.
However, I think we also waste a lot of money on healthcare. We have too many middlemen in health care, and I believe in eliminating the middle man. And that’s why I said, okay, if the problem is money, let’s just get to the root of it and figure out the money part. Would I like to make health care less expensive? Yeah. If I had any power to make health care less expensive, I would. But we are only as strong as our laws allow us to be. So truly we have a legislative problem on our hands because we treat health care as a commodity. And to me, health care should be a right.
What are some of your long-term goals for Rescuing Health?
I envision making a difference—enough of a difference that in some way, we help every single American citizen have health care. Right now I’m trying not to get bogged down with the enormity of the task. I’m just looking at case by case.
So every time I look at a case, it’s like a puzzle, and I’m problem-solving. When we created the organization, I said that I did not want to put ourselves in a box that we couldn’t get out of if we needed to because we didn’t know what kind of situation we would find in front of us. So we tried to use common sense to analyze each case. And so we don’t say we only help people in this way or that way, we’re pretty open to helping anybody who has a legitimate need.
Eventually we would like to be the place where people can use us as a resource, hopefully with a website that you can plug in some basic information and you can figure out the places you can go to ask for help first. If you don’t get help from them, you can come to us.
• Providing financial assistance to individuals for health treatments or surgeries, connecting them with other health care initiatives in Knoxville, and giving them support during treatment and throughout the recovery period.
How you can help
• Donate to the organization or a specific cause on Rescuing Health’s website
• Volunteers are needed for help with web design, social media, fundraising, social work, and legal assistance.
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Featured Photo: Ana Goncalves, at right, with Rescuing Health treasurer Natalie Kurylo. Photo courtesy Rescuing Health.
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