Posted: March 01, 2012
CEBA Winner: Gary VanderArk
Daniel L. Ritchie AwardBy Maria Martin
Ask Gary VanderArk if the lack of access to health care is a problem in America, and the usually calm doctor shows a bit of fire.
"There are 50 million people out there without insurance," he says, the volume of his voice increasing with each emphatic word.
"One person in the U.S. dies every 10 minutes because they don’t have access to health care," the neurosurgeon says. "That’s unacceptable. It’s a problem that has to be fixed."
In 1988, VanderArk set out to help fix the problem. He founded Doctors Care Clinic in response to a decision by Denver Health and Hospital to exclude suburban medically indigent patients. Today, more than 900 doctors volunteer with the organization, providing $416 million in affordable, accessible services to those most in need.
For his tireless work reaching out to those in need, VanderArk has earned the Daniel L. Ritchie Award from the Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance.
"Dr. VanderArk is one of the most incredible people I know," says Gretchen Hammer, executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved, another organization VanderArk founded and continues to lead.
"He’s generous, thoughtful, fair-minded and ethically driven," Hammer says. "Over the last two years, he has shared countless stories with me that highlight his personality. The tie that binds all of his great deeds is the sense that we are our brothers’ keepers."
In 1970, VanderArk came to the city to start the neurosurgical program at Denver Health and Hospital. Through his career in private practice, he recognized the depth of the problem faced by the poorest people in our country.
"I realized it makes a big difference in health care, whether or not you have money," VanderArk says. "I said, ‘That’s not the way it should be.’ And that became the most important thing in my career. We need to provide health care for everyone in this country."
VanderArk, who serves on boards of multiple nonprofit groups, says he tried to retire in 2003.
"The dean called me up, and that was it," says VanderArk, who now serves as director of the Neurosurgery Residency Program at the University of Colorado Medical School.
When he started working at the university, he was asked to teach ethics.
"It’s so important to teach health-science students about ethics, which comes down to a commitment to serve everyone, regardless of their ability to pay."
Unique to Doctors Care, VanderArk says, is that patients aren’t limited only to general care; the pool of doctors who volunteer their time includes 67 specialists.
"I’m not hesitant to ask these doctors to help," he says. "If everyone gives just a little, the impact is huge."
And those who volunteer get plenty back, he says.
"You always get more than you give," he says. "Everyone who participates in our program believes that."
His determination to help people in need has everything to do with his faith in God, says VanderArk, who has been married for 53 years and has two children and several grandchildren.
"I call myself the Tim Tebow of neurosurgery," VanderArk says with a laugh. "We have to show our love for God in how we treat those around us."
Maria Martin is a freelance writer.