Originally created 06/02/06

County discusses indigent care



Offering Columbia County's indigents expanded access to health care free is the goal.

Being able to accomplish it will require funding from the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, officials with the Augusta group Project Access say.

"We cannot initiate this until we have some funding,'' said Dr. Terrence J. Cook, the president of Project Access Inc. "Eventually, once it's up and running, it becomes much easier to attract grant money to keep it self-sustaining in terms of running its operation, paying for its operations.''

Already, Project Access has a Richmond County clinic off Druid Park Avenue providing comprehensive medical care to the uninsured 18-64 years old, who are at or below 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines and have lived in the county for at least six months.

Dr. Cook said Project Access would like to set up a similar clinic in the Harlem area. A Columbia County clinic is needed, based on calls to the Richmond County clinic, he said.

"There's a real need for that, and it would allow for a healthier community,'' he said.

In Richmond County, Project Access receives $400,000 in government funding, Dr. Cook said, adding there are about 40,000 uninsured people in Richmond County. He said there are about 10,000 uninsured residents in Columbia County.

Project Access originally asked Columbia County commissioners for $200,000 to start the Harlem clinic. The group said it is hoping an unused clinic in Harlem will be donated. A Harlem church also has pledged volunteers to the effort.

County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he thinks that to begin with the group should be allocated $75,000.

"I think the doctors would be happy for any amount to kick the program off to see if there is a need and what would be the response to it,'' Mr. Cross said.

In a recent hearing for the county's upcoming fiscal year budget, some commissioners disagreed on funding, with Commissioner Tommy Mercer saying he can't see giving $75,000 to Project Access when the county's health department already is available to the county's uninsured.

Mr. Cross, however, noted in the meeting that Project Access is different from the health department in that it can fill out prescriptions.

Mr. Cross said he feels Project Access is something that is needed in Columbia County.

"I think it's a great humanitarian project,'' he said. "You need to look after the less fortunate in your area as best you can, and this is certainly one way to do it.''

Commissioners have asked Dr. Cook to return to their next committee meeting to discuss the issue again for further consideration of funding.

Staff Writer J. Scott Trubey contributed to this article.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Columbia County commissioners will continue to consider funding for an Augusta group called Project Access, which is looking to expand into Columbia County and would offer free health care to those who are uninsured, indigent and meet certain qualifications.