Letter from the WCMS Foundation Board Chair, Kate Queen, MD

April 9, 2015

The Challenges of Access to Care – Redefining the Focus of WCMS’ Foundation

The Western Carolina Medical Society Foundation, as the physician and community led charitable arm of the Medical Society, has a longstanding commitment to the challenge of securing access to quality health care for community members in need, reducing health disparities, and promoting health and wellness

Project Access, a program of the Foundation, has been a powerful example of the Foundation’s commitment to this goal. Since its creation in 1996, Project Access has inspired physicians and community partners to donate their services, without compensation, to help those who do not have access to quality care. Project Access has provided an innovative model for communities across the country and has helped spawn similar organizations that offer an efficient and cost effective system of assistance to those with unmet critical health care needs.

However in this era of rapid change, Project Access is being challenged to re-invent its role. In the setting of new systems of care, waning financial support and new opportunities for health insurance coverage, Project Access is embarking on a process of redefinition and revitalization.

In a similar fashion, the Western Carolina Medical Society Foundation as a charitable organization finds itself with new opportunities to expand and sharpen its focus and identity. Your WCMS Foundation Board is strategically engaging colleagues  throughout the region, particularly those in more rural settings, to learn from them about their own unique struggles with access to care and local innovations to address those challenges. WCMS Foundation’s larger aim is to build on and replicate existing resources and programs in rural communities to improve access to care across the region.

The statewide statistics are clear. North Carolinians living in rural regions of our state are older, have lower levels of education, higher rates of unemployment and lower incomes - all of which are linked to health disparities.  They are also less likely to have access to health care services, and to have a higher mortality rate than their counterparts living in more urban settings.

Physicians serving our rural counties have insights into the local strengths, resources and opportunities, as well as, the gaps in care and access needs. They also struggle with manpower needs, difficulties with recruitment and retention, and threats to the viability of their local community hospitals.

In our midst there are individuals who are already doing great work in the face of such challenges, like Dr Steve North and the Center for Rural Health Innovation; Dr. Michael Toedt and the Cherokee Indian Hospital; and Dr. Steve Crane and high access, low-overhead clinics. These inspired individuals have leveraged limited resources to create unique solutions, and are sharing their experience and expertise across the state and the nation.

I am hopeful that by creating a space for dialogue and sharing, the Foundation can serve as a catalyst to bring together new voices and new insights that build on lessons learned with programs like   those mentioned above and the many other innovations out in the region.  The Foundation is committed to being the spark and support for new partnerships that create fresh solutions to the challenges of access to care today and tomorrow.

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Kate Queen, MD
WCMS Foundation Board Chair

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