September 4, 2014

Funding cuts may affect Project Access, which gives care to uninsured in Sedgwick County

Jeff Taborsky inexplicably dropped from 185 pounds to 145 pounds in less than six weeks.

Jeff Taborsky inexplicably dropped from 185 pounds to 145 pounds in less than six weeks.

He had the shakes so badly that he couldn’t walk. Something was clearly wrong, but he didn’t know what it was.

It was 2012 and Taborsky had been uninsured for six years, making it more difficult to get the medical care he needed.

That’s when the 53-year-old maintenance man learned about Project Access, a program through which more than 620 physicians, eight hospitals and 80 pharmacies in Sedgwick County donate their services to help the uninsured.

“There’s really no words to say how thankful I am to those folks,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

Taborsky was able to get in touch with a specialist who diagnosed him with Graves disease, an immune response that leads to the overproduction of thyroid hormones, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can lead to heart disorders, brittle bones, eye problems and other life-threatening complications.

Now, Taborsky is back up to 185 pounds and is able to work again. Through Project Access, he continues to have checkups with his doctor. He’ll be taking a medication for the rest of his life that costs $6 a month through the program, instead of $100 a month.

Project Access was started in 1999 by physicians in Sedgwick County to help serve the uninsured. It’s a nonprofit affiliate of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County. Since its founding, it has served more than 12,000 patients.

But program officials say that funding cuts from local governments could affect the services Project Access provides.

Over the last couple of years, Project Access has seen reductions in funding from the city and county. In 2012, it received $250,000 from the city and $232,500 from the county. In 2014, the city funded $225,000 and the county funded $208,940.

For 2015, the Sedgwick County funding is projected to stay the same, but the city funding will drop to $175,000. Project Access will also have $268,974 in funding from the United Way in 2015, which has helped fund it in the past.

About 26 percent of the program’s budget goes toward prescription medications and prescribed medical equipment, 62 percent covers salary expenses, and 12 percent covers other administrative costs like telephones, insurance and computers, said Anne Nelson, associate executive director of the Central Plains Health Care Partnership at the medical society, which oversees Project Access.

The city and county funds are used to cover the prescriptions and medical equipment, she said.

“We may be looking at cutting the amount of prescription support that would be available and it may come down to cutting staff positions,” Nelson said. “If that happens, we serve hundreds less patients every year if we don’t have staff to enroll patients and coordinate that care.

“The cut is at the bone and is making it much more difficult to operate the program.”

The city funds Project Access through the Community Services Block Grant program, which is federally funded, said City Manager Robert Layton.

“Unfortunately, the city’s CSBG allocation has been reduced the past two years, requiring program cuts for local programs,” Layton said. “There is a board that reviews all funding requests and presents recommendations to the City Council for the annual expenditure of CSBG funds.”

There are an estimated 65,000 uninsured people in Sedgwick County, Nelson said. Because of the cuts, Nelson said the program has a fundraising goal of $175,000 this year.

Meanwhile, the medical society is also seeking more of its members to donate services, especially in specialty areas like ophthalmology, neurology, neurosurgery and orthopedics, said Donna Sweet, HIV/AIDS physician and president of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.

In order to qualify for Project Access, patients must be referred by their family physician or a local clinic. They must have a current medical need, be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, live in Sedgwick County, have no health coverage and be at 200 percent or below the Federal Poverty Level.

For more information, visit www.centralplainshealthcarepartnership.org.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

Project Access eligibility requirements

To qualify for Project Access, patients must:

Have a current medical need that goes beyond a regular checkup

Be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident

Live in Sedgwick County

Have no medical insurance or current state or federal medical benefits

Have a gross household income at or below 200 percent of Federal Poverty Level guidelines (about $44,700 for a family of four or about $29,400 for a family of two)

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