Originally created 08/01/02

Project Access marks progress



J. Larry Read looked across at Terrence Cook and smiled.

"Can you believe almost two years ago we were in Asheville?" Mr. Read, the chief executive officer of University Health Care System, said Wednesday. "And here we are. You did it."

"Here we are at last," said Dr. Cook, the chairman of the Richmond County Board of Health.

"Here" was a reception Wednesday for the Richmond County Medical Society Project Access, in which volunteer physicians treat the poor and uninsured. Health and city officials hope the new system will provide a workable solution to the county's longstanding indigent-care woes.

Project Access is based on a highly successful program begun in Asheville, N.C., by the Buncombe County Medical Society. Hospitals and pharmacists donate needed services, and the county and city pay for prescriptions provided at cost.

The Augusta Commission voted to give the new program $400,000 to cover start-up costs, administration and drugs. Itwill get a lot for its money, Dr. Cook said.

"The return on this investment is going to be very significant in the years to come," said Dr. Cook, who is also the chairman of the Project Access board. For that same $400,000 in public funding, Asheville's program can document $7 million in charity care provided for patients, said Alan McKenzie, the president of the American Project Access Network and the chief executive officer of the Buncombe County Medical Society.

"That's the kind of return on investment that your elected officials are seeking and that the community is seeking and expecting from their elected officials," Mr. McKenzie said.

Augusta's program is one of 17 Project Access programs across the country, Mr. McKenzie said. That number will grow to 22 by the end of the year.

University Hospital, which had contracted with the county for years to provide indigent care, still will provide a major share of the care through its specialists and the community clinics operated jointly with civic groups, Mr. Read said.

As patients get access to more care and more specialists, the overall health of the community should improve, he said.

"If we do it right, the cost is going to go down and the quality of life is going to go up," Mr. Read said.

TO GET CARE

Project Access is intended for uninsured Richmond County residents ages 18-64 whose annual income is at or below 150 percent of the poverty level, which would be $27,150 for a family of four. For more information, call 733-5177.

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