In 1999, frustrated with the inability of a community to care for its most vulnerable, a Wichita physician struck out to find a solution.
Paul Uhlig found a model program in Asheville, N.C. Its secret was that it relied on the local medical society to bring together the community – physicians, dentists, pharmacists, hospitals, clinics and many others – in new ways. The program coordinated donated health care from these providers to low-income uninsured people.
That was 15 years ago this week. Today, that program in Wichita is Project Access, and to date more than 12,000 people have received care that likely would not have been available without it. They are day care providers and preschool teachers, retail workers and restaurant servers, trash haulers and truckers. Many are self-employed.
These are people who work hard but cannot afford health insurance. Many hard-working people in Sedgwick County still remain uninsured. That is where Project Access and its network of 600-plus physicians, eight area hospitals, 15 dentists and 85 pharmacies steps in. The network makes sure that when cancer hits or complications from an illness require a specialist or any other time that medical help is needed, there is someone there who can provide it.
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We are proud to be among those physicians. In our positions as volunteer leaders with the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, we also see the value Project Access brings to the community as a whole.
Without Project Access, physicians, hospitals and others would not be able to deliver the level of care we do, which amounts to more than $160 million in donated care over the past 15 years. The program serves as a clearinghouse, where patients are guided through a process that determines their eligibility and connects them with the provider best equipped to meet their needs.
For the community, the return is measured in the number of lives saved and in the number of people working and taking care of their families.
Through the years, there are many people who made this 15th anniversary a reality. The early funders that provided seed money – the United Way of the Plains, Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita, as well as the many physicians, hospitals and pharmacies – all deserve our heartfelt thanks.
Though public dollars have been cut in recent years, Project Access is determined to keep moving forward. The agency is diversifying its funding base while continuing to work with its current partners.
We applaud Project Access for celebrating 15 years and look forward to how it will continue to evolve while never losing sight of its founding values: collaboration, coordination and return on investment to our community.
Donna Sweet is president of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County. Thomas Bloxham is president of the Central Plains Health Care Partnership.