Local nonprofit takes celebration to new heights for 20th anniversary

2016: Batman rappels from side of building

Tito Shelton, 20 months, got a visit from a Wichita Police Department from Batman outside his window at the Wesley Children's Hospital in 2016. The superhero was actually a Wichita Police Department SWAT Team member.
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Tito Shelton, 20 months, got a visit from a Wichita Police Department from Batman outside his window at the Wesley Children's Hospital in 2016. The superhero was actually a Wichita Police Department SWAT Team member.

Project Access, a physician-started nonprofit, will celebrate 20 years of providing healthcare to low-income families in Sedgwick County by sending community members rappelling down the Ambassador Hotel in a two-night fundraising event.

Mick Cayless, project development director of the Central Plains Health Care Partnership, said the event, called Access the Edge, is a unique event.

“It’s a fun event, it’s different to a walk or a dinner or those types of things that are done to death. This is an opportunity for brave souls to rappel the side of a 14-story hotel,” Cayless said.

In a two-night event put on in coordination with the Canadian company Over the Edge, the nonprofit will put on Access the Edge. People who wish to rappel down the side of the building must raise a minimum of $1,000 for Project Access.

“If you’re scared of heights, it’s okay,” Shelley Duncan, executive director of Project Access, said. “Mick and I are both terrified of heights and we will be going over. People can think of it as not only a way to help support a pretty awesome mission and organization, but also it would be something that will help you overcome a fear.”

While the activity is certain to give you an “adrenaline rush,” Cayless said, rappelling with Over the Edge is perfectly safe.

“The (technicians) ... are highly educated in the realm of this kind of work and they are very proficient in the use of ropes,” Cayless said. “It’s a very, very safe event.”

Starting at 4 p.m. on Aug. 29, the event will kick off with a few of Wichita’s most well-known residents and leaders. Police Chief Gordon Ramsey, fire Chief Tammy Snow and vice mayor Jeff Blubaugh will be just a few of the individuals “going over the edge,” Duncan said.

Others rappelling down the hotel include Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse, Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell, Eagle columnist Bonnie Bing and Shelly Prichard of the Wichita Community Foundation.

The following night, Aug. 30, is when up to 76 fundraisers will get the chance to rappel down the building. That evening is also when the Toss Your Boss aspect of the fundraising campaign will happen. Participating companies and offices that raise $1,000 minimum can send their bosses or team leaders rappelling down the Ambassador Hotel, 104 S. Broadway.

There will be food trucks and live music at the bottom of the hotel for people to support the “brave souls” and participate in the fundraiser, Cayless said.

Through this fundraiser so far, Project Access has raised $23,000 with another $24,000 pledged and additional money coming in from sponsors like the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, West Wichita Family Physicians, KMUW and others. When all is said in done, Duncan said the fundraising goal is $100,000. All of the money raised during the Access the Edge fundraiser will go directly into the fund that helps uninsured residents get access to lifesaving healthcare, Cayless said.

“For every dollar that is donated to Project Access, we are able to leverage $15.56 in healthcare,” Duncan said.

Since 1999, Project Access has facilitated the donation of more than $212 million in treatment and has helped more than 14,000 residents without health insurance get treatment they need, Duncan said. In the average year, the 635 physicians in the Project Access network can see anywhere from 900 to 1,100 individuals.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Duncan said the number of uninsured people in Sedgwick County has gone down, but she estimates there is still as many as 60,000 uninsured individuals.

“(Patients) typically come to us with very serious diagnoses beyond the scope of what a community clinic or federally qualified health center can treat,” Duncan said.

She said Project Access has helped people get treatment for chronic illnesses like diabetes or get life-changing knee replacements. Sometimes, they even get patients with late-state cancer diagnoses. Many of the individuals that come through the program are self-employed, work in retail or childcare.

Cayless said about 67 percent of the people treated through Project Access are actively employed, but don’t have the money to purchase health insurance.

“These are people that work,” Duncan said. “I think there’s this misconception that people in need don’t work, but these people do, they do work and they are so appreciative of our medical community.”

Looking forward, Duncan said she doesn’t want the nonprofit to grow.

“It would be nice if we were out of business because everyone had health insurance, but until that happens, I want us to just continue our operation and continue to help people that have nowhere to go but us because they can’t afford health care.”

Cayless agreed.

“The ironic thing about this organization, in essence, is that we want to help so many people that don’t have health insurance get the treatment they need and at some point, we won’t be needed anymore because everyone will have insurance,” Cayless said.

Something else Project Access does is help people enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act.

Of the 76 rappelling slots available for Aug. 30, more than 50 are still open. For more information about Project Access or their fundraiser Access the Edge, visit ote.cphcp.com or call 316-688-0600.