Project Access helps those in need of medical care

South Sound’s health care network has narrowly averted loss of an important program that provides free specialty care for patients in need.

The program is Thurston County Project Access, which is a program of the Thurston Mason County Medical Society created in 2005 to provide diagnostic testing and treatment for patients with acute and urgent medical conditions.

At the heart of the program are the more than 200 physicians, physical therapists, lab technicians and others who generously donate their services free of charge.

Since its inception, Project Access has helped some 1,300 patients, many of whom may have either gone without proper care or turned to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

While the doctors donate their time, there are still significant administrative costs associated with running this type of medical emergency program.

So the medical society was gravely concerned when sources of funding began to evaporate as the economic recession deepened.

The rescue package recently worked out, and good for three years, calls on annual donations of $60,000 from Providence St. Peter Hospital and $15,000 each year from Capital Medical Center to keep Project Access afloat.

The hospitals make likely partners, especially when one of the goals of Project Access is to reduce the number of unnecessary visits to emergency rooms.

Also, the CHOICE Regional Health Network has agreed to adminster and support the project, CHOICE, which administers several other health access programs for the needy and uninsured, is a logical home for Project Access.

To be eligible for Project Access, patients must be 18-to-64 years of age, uninsured, underinsured or living in a household with an income of 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level.

The hope is that Project Access will be enough of a success to generate federal grant funding. Programs such as Project Access are necessary, and will continue to be necessary, in the absence of meaningful health care reform.