Since 1947, the Sarasota County Medical Society of America has served Sarasota County in creating impactful health projects and endeavors.

An all-female group consisting of both physicians and physician spouses, it supports medical families through education and advocacy, provides fellowship for members and helps promote and support the health and well-being of families in the community.

The Sarasota Medical Alliance Foundation is the nonprofit arm of SCMSA that promotes health education, identifies and addresses health care needs and issues, and supports health-related charitable endeavors in the Sarasota County community.

Erin Lilly, who also holds down a paying job at the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce, is in her second year as foundation executive board president. During her in involvement in the organization, she has made quite an impact, primarily with a project she finds very important.

“When we first moved here to Venice and I joined the Sarasota Medical Alliance, I heard them talking about supporting Sarasota Drug Free Youth, so I signed up for that committee,” Lilly said. “There were a lot of stories in the news about opioid issues and during a meeting with the Drug Free Sarasota coalition, I said to them, ‘You need to create something like a Physician’s Advocate Award that will enable physicians to passively educate their patients about opioids.’”

Her thought was that physicians assumed that patients knew about all the dangers associated with opioid use but didn’t necessarily have the time to broach the subject with them during busy office visits. In conjunction with Drug Free Sarasota, she came up with what she believed was a viable solution. And three years later, it still is.

They created the Drug Free Sarasota Physician Advocate Award Program, to find a way to connect physicians with the addiction and recovery community. To get started, they conducted focus groups with three major addiction and recovery family organizations in Sarasota County and formulated a two-part component project.

“We came up with a waiting room literature model to help fix the disconnect between the doctors and patients, when it came to discussing opioids,” Lilly said. “When we wrote it, we wanted to address the question, ‘What do you wish your physician had told you?’ It’s really just a patient education piece.”

The first part of the program consists of an educational tear sheet, which is given to the patient to read just before they receive an opioid. The second component is an award module that also serves as a literature holder for existing Drug Free Sarasota literature. It sits in the waiting room or exam room of physician offices and has information about Sarasota County’s Drug Free Youth program, the Marchman Act (which offers support for individuals who have been involuntary committed to a drug program, and their families), information about the availability and use of naloxone (opioid overdose reversal), and advice about how to spot signs of overdose.

Physicians and healthcare facilities can enroll in the program simply by agreeing to have the waiting room literature award module brought to their office, and having their assistants trained to hand out the tear sheets.

The Physician Advocate Award Program even earned Lilly and her collaborators the Southern Medical Association Alliance award for best health project in 2017. All four major hospitals in Sarasota County and the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center in Manatee County got behind the project.

Some of the other projects supported by the SMAF are a scholarship program for local aspiring medical students, the sponsorship of a video series aimed at educating teens about dealing with depression, anxiety and abuse, G.E.M.S. (a longstanding comprehensive babysitting course) and other community efforts.

Coming up in May will be the organization’s spring fundraiser. It’s only open to SMAF members, but if you or your company make a sponsorship donation, you will be welcome to attend.

Lilly said that though the SMAF has traditionally been a fellowship organization, she is pleased that the community outreach aspect has become even more important.

“We have more than 200 total female physicians and physician spouses and partners in our group,” she said. “We’re really focusing on creating and sustaining meaningful health projects in Sarasota County, and we’re proud to be partnering with Drug Free Sarasota on the Physician Advocate Award project. Physicians like being able to show their patients they care in this way.”

For more information about the Sarasota Medical Alliance Foundation, and to find out how you can donate toward the spring fundraiser, visit the website at Donate-SMAF.org.

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