Together with Western Carolina Medical Society (WCMS), Mission Health today announced it has been awarded a $750,000 grant over three years from The Duke Endowment to support and expand WCMS’ Project Access charity care program.
In 1996, WCMS and its physician leaders recognized the real need to create a model of care that ensures all of our community members have access to preventive and specialty care, and to address the ever-widening chasm of health disparity in our area. Thus Project Access was born in Buncombe County—a model that has been nationally replicated in hundreds of communities with its ability to weave together a comprehensive network of care at low or no cost for the most indigent residents.
Project Access is an innovative, physician volunteer initiative that provides a way for participants to stabilize their health despite prohibitive financial barriers when health insurance is not attainable for them either through employment or government programs. Through Project Access, over 500 physicians and dozens of community partners donate their time and services to patients, receiving minimal to no reimbursement or compensation. Project Access offers a comprehensive array of free or low-cost health care services, including primary and specialty care, hospital services, labs, imaging, medications, medical equipment, mental health/substance abuse services, alternative medicine, care management, social services, and more. Project Access volunteers donate and leverage more than $8 million in services for more than 2,500 patients annually.
The award comes at a particularly precarious time for the low-income and uninsured population, many of whom enrolled for insurance for the first time through the Affordable Care Act and who now face an uncertain future with the passage of the American Health Care Act in the House. “We are grateful for The Duke Endowment’s support of Project Access services so that we may sustain, strengthen and improve access to health care services for our most vulnerable populations and those with the greatest need,” said Miriam Schwarz, CEO and executive director of WCMS. “In 2017, the Project Access program, with its expertise in safety net health care, is more important than ever.”
Potential changes to the health insurance landscape and unprecedented need for access to behavioral health services have required that we adapt and expand for the future. New initiatives include planned expansion of services into rural Madison County, collaboration with Mission Health Partners to address social determinants of health, and leveraging Health Insurance Application Counselors for maximum impact in the region.
“The Duke Endowment grant fills an urgent need in our community and allows Project Access to care for patients in the best setting – outside of the hospital and Emergency Room, and ideally in a primary care home,” said William Hathaway, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at Mission Health. “This generous funding allows us to coordinate preventive and wellness care that keeps patients’ overall health at a higher level, and with Project Access these patients get a primary care home and access to specialty care. As a result, our volunteer physicians help control crisis episodes such as hospitalization or emergency care, which is always more expensive and less desirable for patients.”
Across North Carolina, Medicaid expansion should have covered an additional 550,000 uninsured people. According to Buncombe County’s Health and Human Services estimates, the expansion would have provided an additional 12,000 low-income, uninsured people in Buncombe County with Medicaid coverage, which in turn would have helped them with access to primary care and other needed health services. With the grant funding, Project Access is positioned to serve those uncovered by Medicaid and sustain its efforts to keep patients out of the emergency department and the hospital by providing excellent healthcare services for the uninsured upstream to the outpatient setting.
“Our founder, James B. Duke, was committed to removing barriers to health care, and improving access remains a priority for us today,” says Lin Hollowell, Director of the Health Care program area at The Duke Endowment. “By supporting this community network of care, we believe families across Buncombe and Madison Counties will receive needed comprehensive health services in the most cost-efficient and appropriate setting.”