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Program offers free medical care

 

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 A community effort is trying to improve access to medical care for thousands of uninsured Stark County residents.

When it fully launches early next year, the Access Health Stark County program will match eligible residents without health insurance with a network of volunteer primary-care doctors and specialists who agree to provide free care.

 

The initiative also includes Stark County’s four hospitals, which each have agreed to offer free lab work and imaging tests to program participants.

In addition, enrollees will be able to get prescribed medicines through the Stark County Prescription Assistance Network.

”Our goal is just for them to become healthy,” program director Barb Blevins said.

The project is an outgrowth of the United Way of Stark County’s COMPASS program, which stands for ”Community Objectives Met through a Partnership of All Segments of Society.”

A COMPASS community assessment determined a program was needed to help uninsured residents get access to medical care.

An estimated 47,000 Stark County residents lack health insurance, though the number is likely higher as people have lost their jobs and, subsequently, their health coverage, said Merele Kinsey, previous chair of the operations council for Access Health.

The Access Health Stark County program will be available to uninsured residents ages 18 through 64 who have income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $44,100 for a family of four and $21,660 for an individual.

Participants also must sign a ”patient responsibilities statement,” in which they pledge to keep appointments, limit ER use for true emergencies, obtain prescribed medications and share updated information.

An estimated 25,000 residents meet the program’s enrollment criteria, Kinsey said.

All participants will receive an ID card to present at each visit, just as insured patients have an insurance card, said Marcas Miles, director of programs and communications for Employers Health.

The Canton-based national coalition of employers that work to improve the cost, quality and accessibility of health services has provided $40,000 to help fund the Access Health program.

”We want the client to feel like it’s a normal situation,” said Miles, who is serving as chair of the operations council for Access Health. ”We want them to be treated like they’re any other client in the office.”

 

The program is similar to an initiative in Summit County called Access to Care, which also links uninsured residents with volunteer doctors. Nearly 2,000 Summit County residents are getting free medical care through the program.

The Stark County program recently launched a pilot phase, which is targeting about 40 qualified uninsured Stark County residents who are existing patients of participating volunteer physicians.

Two retired Stark County physicians, Drs. John Humphrey and Kellie Johnson, have been leading the effort to recruit volunteer doctors for the program.

So far, more than 150 Stark County doctors have agreed to participate.

”We literally have not had one primary-care doctor who said no,” Humphrey said.

Each primary-care doctor agrees to see 10 patients through the program, of which half can be existing patients who are eligible, Humphrey said. Specialists agree to see 20 patients.

Many doctors already provide free care on a case-by-case basis in their private practices, Humphrey said. The program enables them to help those patients get the tests and prescriptions they need as well.

”A patient will tell you, ‘Doctor, I know I need to do it, but I can’t afford to do it,’ ” he said.

The development of Access Health has been funded through $208,500 in grants and in-kind contributions.

Along with Employers Health, other contributors include: Aultman Health Foundation, $9,000; Aultman Hospital, $15,000 in-kind contribution of a software program; Austin-Bailey Foundation, $10,000; Goodwill, $14,000; Health Foundation of Greater Massillon, $20,000; Paul and Carol David Foundation, $25,000; Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, $40,000; Stark County Foundation, $10,000; and United Way, $25,555.

For now, Goodwill is serving as the fiscal agent and offering free space within its Community Campus in Canton.


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