“Pro bono” comes from the Latin “pro bono public,” meaning “for the public good.” Although usually used in reference to donated legal services, it applies to professional services undertaken voluntarily and without payment.
All hospitals and most physicians provide health care services without payment to those in need and without insurance coverage. Those services are often provided in an uncoordinated manner, and without the ability to quantify the value to the underserved and to society in general.
This led to the creation 19 years ago of Project Access, a nonprofit organization that coordinates donated medical care to uninsured Sedgwick County residents. Project Access recently surpassed $200 million in donated care and is celebrating this milestone with a Final Friday art event from 5:30-8 p.m. Oct. 26 at 125 N. Market in downtown Wichita.
Following a proposal by Wichita physician Paul Uhlig to mirror a project developed in Ashville, N.C., city and county leaders, members of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, United Way of the Plains, local hospitals, pharmacies and other providers joined as partners in the formation of Project Access.
All health care services were donated, and city and county funding supported a prescription program. Anne Nelson was hired to direct the program, and the first Project Access patient was served on Sept. 1, 1999.
One of the first patients of mine enrolled in Project Access was a 45-year-old single mother with two children and newly diagnosed cervical cancer. She was the epitome of the working poor. Although she was working two jobs, neither provided health insurance.
Through Project Access, all office visits, chemotherapy and radiation therapy were provided. Once therapy was completed, she was able to find full-time employment, which included health care benefits.
Current estimates suggest that one of every seven Sedgwick County adults are without insurance. Since 1999, Project Access — with the help of eight hospitals, 1,100 physicians and 39 dentists — has provided more than $200 million in donated services to more than 13,800 patients.
Currently, 60 percent of the practicing members of the Sedgwick County Medical Society participate in Project Access, including 194 primary care physicians and 441 specialists. Wesley Medical Center and Via Christi Health are the primary providers of hospital services. Nearly 90 pharmacies fill generic prescriptions. Other providers include ambulatory and specialized surgery centers, physical therapy and rehabilitation centers, diagnostic centers and hospice. Shelley Duncan now serves as executive director.
At a time when civil discourse is strained and gaining consensus on any subject is difficult, there can be no question about the significance of Project Access’ impact on our community. It is changing and saving lives.
Jed Delmore is president of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.