Imagine having a health issue that’s treatable, but because you lack financial means to see a doctor, it becomes life-threatening. Now imagine you’re just barely in your 30s.
That’s the story for one Collier County man, whose renal function had declined because he couldn’t afford to treat his kidney disease. That changed when Dr. Carlos M. Mendez began treating him for free.
“I’ve been able to stabilize his kidney functions and he’s doing better than he was about a year ago,” Mendez says. Being able to help those who have no one else to turn to means more to the nephrologist than money. “To have a young man in his 30s have to start dialysis [which substitutes for normal kidney functions] because he doesn’t have the resources to see a doctor? I can’t live with that. That’s why I don’t mind taking care of him.”
Mendez, who owns Elite Kidney Care LLC in Naples, treats many more low-income patients for free each year, in partnership with The Neighborhood Health Clinic of Naples, which delivers care to uninsured workers in Collier County. When he’s not tending to them, he’s helping patients who once had trouble receiving care due to language barriers.
Mendez is the only Spanish-speaking nephrologist in Collier County, he says, and at least 60 percent of his patients speak mostly Spanish. He moved from Louisiana to Naples nearly three years ago, mainly to address their needs.
“A lot of my patients have seen other nephrologists in the past, but they couldn’t communicate [with medical staff],” Mendez says. Even with their families present to translate, important information would get lost in the middle. “Unfortunately, due to the language [barrier], a lot of my patients didn’t even know the basics of what was going on with their disease.”
Not only has Mendez been able to help his patients better understand their medical needs, he’s eliminated the need for their family members to miss work—and in turn income—in order to translate during appointments.
But Mendez’s community assistance doesn’t stop there. Multiple times per week, he sees dialysis patients at Fresenius Kidney Care centers who are undocumented, uninsured and often non-English speaking. By providing this service—which is also free—he helps ease the burden on local hospitals, which would need to treat these patients emergently.
Mendez’s faith drives him to care for patients regardless of background, insurance, or abilities.
“I have to answer to somebody more important at the end, the Lord, and I definitely am not going to get there and tell him I couldn’t take care of people because they couldn’t pay me,” he says. “I want to make sure that at least with this gift he’s given me, I have not let him down in that part.”