Originally created 02/08/02

Program calls on retired doctors



President Bush wants them to form a volunteer corps capable of responding to large-scale emergencies. Augusta health officials would like them to be available to tend to the poor and uninsured. But getting retired physicians involved again means satisfying some complex legal issues first.

Officials with Richmond County Medical Society Project Access will be approaching physicians in the county this month about volunteering to serve in the program. Based on a highly successful model begun in Asheville, N.C., Project Access would pair physicians who volunteer appointment times with uninsured patients at 150 percent of the federal poverty level or below. It is set to start in Augusta on July 1.

That effort may be aided by Mr. Bush, who last week called on Americans to devote more of their time to community service.

The president's message has inspired one Medical Association of Georgia member to propose the group be "pro-active" about encouraging it, which will be pitched to the group's board at its Saturday meeting, said association President Walker Ray, a pediatrician in Atlanta.

Mr. Bush also called on retired physicians and other health care workers to form a Medical Reserve Corps to aid public health officials in the event of a large-scale emergency, such as a terrorist attack. It's something public health officials can get behind, East Central Health District Director Frank Rumph said.

"We certainly see it as a viable option," Dr. Rumph said. He planned to work with different associations to find retirees and may make a public appeal later for them to sign up. But whether they would face any kind of liability, such as a malpractice lawsuit, might have to be answered first.

"If you don't have the liability issues spelled out, it's certainly going to be something of a barrier to someone volunteering," Dr. Rumph said.

That was also a question for the Project Access officials, who are considering how to involve retired physicians, of whom 117 are members of the medical society. If there is no expectation of payment, Georgia's Good Samaritan laws would appear to protect a licensed provider unless there was "gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct."

If it can be worked out, those retired physicians still have a lot to offer, Dr. Ray said.

"Physicians in the last few years are retiring at an earlier age because of managed-care pressures, and I think they are an untapped resource," he said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.