People’s Community Clinic Honors Dr. Bruce Levy and Austin Gastroenterology for Providing Free Colonoscopies
People's Community Clinic is honoring Dr. Bruce Levy and Austin Gastroenterology May 13 for their work providing patients with free screening colonoscopies. Credit: Jack Puryear.
By Tonyia Cone
For the last four years, Austin Gastroenterology physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, staff members, technicians, pathologists and anesthesiologists have donated their time and services one Saturday each year to provide free, pro-bono diagnostic colonoscopies to eligible People’s Community Clinic patients.
“We’ve been privileged to do this,” said Dr. Bruce Levy, Austin Gastroenterology CEO. “We feel pretty good about what we do. The staff and doctors volunteer to do whatever is necessary.”
The People’s Community Clinic is honoring Levy and Austin Gastroenterology with the W. Neal Kocurek Health Advocacy Award for this effort to improve health in Central Texas. The award will be given at the People’s Community Clinic’s annual luncheon May 13.
An anesthesiologist and lawyer, Levy began running Austin Gastroenterology in 2001. At the time, the practice was made up of 14 physicians. Since then, the practice has rapidly expanded; it is now a full-service gastrointestinal practice and the largest GI practice in Central Texas, with 40 doctors, 25 nurse practitioners and physician assistants, 18 offices, a drug infusion facility, in-house anesthesia and pathology, and soon, three surgery centers.
About four years ago, Levy went to the Austin Gastroenterology board and said, “Since we’re all good community citizens and do a lot individually, it would be great if we could help the working poor and provide free colonoscopies for people who would otherwise not be able to get them.”
The board; the doctors at Austin Gastroenterology; Dana DeSapio, registered nurse and Austin Endoscopy Center administrator; and all the other staff members at the practice supported the idea wholeheartedly, so Levy asked Regina Rogoff, his friend and CEO of the People’s Community Clinic, how the two organizations could partner to make it a reality.
Since then, Austin Gastroenterology has provided more than 100 free colonoscopies to patients from People’s Community Clinic, which serves the nearly one out of every six people living in the Austin area with no health insurance and little access to other high quality, affordable medical care.
“We open the center on Shoal Creek and all my staff, doctors, pathologists, anesthesiologists, everybody works for free,” Levy said.
The colonoscopies screen for pre-cancerous and beginning cancerous lesions.
“We’ve saved these people from horrible futures and also saved a great deal of money for the community,” he said, explaining that the national estimated cost of treating a colon cancer patient is $250,000.
The American College of Gastroenterology recognized Austin Gastroenterology for the program last year, with a Service Award for Colorectal Cancer Outreach, Prevention and Year-Round Excellence for Best Community Service Delivery. The SCOPY recognizes the achievements of ACG members in community engagement, education and awareness efforts for colorectal cancer prevention.
Austin Gastroenterology takes patients from clinics that work with indigent populations and has been a providing member of Project Access, a Travis County Medical Society system of medical care for low-income, uninsured Travis County residents, since the program began in 2002.
Levy said he sees the Jewish value tikkun olam reflected in his work.
“It’s not our responsibility to cure everything but it’s our responsibility to do our best to improve it. I and my wife and my children all believe in that. My Jewish values are values of true tzedakah and true responsibility to do your best to improve society and improve the world,” he explained.
“It’s not just Jewish values. Doctors, part of our oath is to do no harm and do good for our patients,” he said. “Our medical background requires this, my Masonic background requires this, my Jewish values, all say these are things we should do. It’s a responsibility we have.” ■
For more information or to attend the People’s Community Clinic luncheon, visit austinpcc.org/event/theres-no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch-luncheon.