For all the troubles with the nation's health care system in terms of affordability and the rising number of uninsured, there have always been physicians and other health-care givers who are willing to provide free care to those who are in need but unable to pay. The Project Access Community Health Partnership reflects such physicians' compassion. Indeed, it has raised the level of their service in Hamilton County to a highly coordinated art and mission.
Project Access was established under the auspices of the Medical Foundation of Chattanooga and the leadership of Dr. Joe Cofer in 2004. Since then, its network of participating physicians, hospitals, ancillary service providers and other partners -- and thus its scope and delivery of services -- has grown dramatically.
In a report issued Thursday, Project Access leaders outlined the progress the volunteer alliance has achieved since its inception. Its participants now include 620 volunteer physicians and 11 health centers -- including the county's three largest hospitals, two rehabilitation centers, the county health department and five public clinics -- plus a range of other partners.
Together, the participants have now donated more than $76 million in free physician and hospital care to 5,284 residents of the county, with 1,079 individuals given care in 2010. The average number of people who receive care has risen to 350 a month. For every dollar donated to Project Access, $31 in services have been provided.
Project Access' services are as comprehensive as the need. Specialty medical care, surgeries, hospital and clinic care are seamlessly coordinated through the providers.
For many, Project Access' services allow quality of life, or life itself, to be gained when the alternatives are most bleak. One patient, for example, is Karen Manning, who was laid off from her job after 32 years due to a poor economy, and then lost her health insurance. Her arms were weakening because of nerve damage due to a spinal condition. The spinal surgery and treatment provided by Project Access, she said, "saved me from paralysis, or even death."
Though her case is not unique, Project Access' standards do not fit all. The project limits its services to county residents who do not qualify for Medicaid, whose income is not more than 150 percent of the federal poverty level (i.e., $16,335 for an individual; $27,795 for a family of three), and who have no access to health insurance.
Those guidelines surely exempt a number of people who would benefit. But to those who are eligible, Project Access is a lifeline. It is, indeed, a notable example of the best traditions of medical care and the compassion of health-care providers. Hamilton County is fortunate to have so many physicians and care-givers who are willing to help those in need.