February 7, 2018

February 6, 2018

For Immediate Release
Miriam Schwarz, MPA
CEO/Executive Director
Western Carolina Medical Society | 304 Summit St | Asheville, NC 28803
P: 828.274-2267 | F: 828.274-2093 | www.mywcms.org


In 1996, Western Carolina Medical Society Foundation (WCMSF) and its physician leaders recognized the need to create a model of care that ensured all community members had access to preventive and specialty care, and to address the ever-widening chasm of health disparity in the area. Thus Project Access® was born in Buncombe County, a comprehensive network of volunteer care at low or no cost for the most indigent residents. WCMSF is proud to announce that WCMSF Project Access® has expanded into Madison County in 2018, thanks to a generous grant from The Duke Endowment and in partnership with Mission Health System.

“We are excited that Project Access® has expanded into Madison County and appreciate all the physicians participating in Project Access®,” said Dr. Susan McDowell, a family medicine physician at Hot Springs Medical Center. “It will truly serve a great need for our patients and thanks to WCMSF for partnering with us to make this a reality.” Hot Springs Medical Center (HSHP) serves over 12,000 patients annually and is the sole provider of primary care in Madison County.

The 2015 Census shows that 80% of the Madison County population are under the age of 65 (16,911); 15.2% (2,570) are living without health insurance, and 19.9% live in poverty. There are extremely limited specialty services available in Madison County. Transportation is also limited in the county and transportation to Buncombe County to access specialty care is a critical need. Twenty two percent of HSHP patients currently require medication assistance.

Project Access® is an innovative, physician-volunteer initiative that provides a way for participants to stabilize their health despite prohibitive financial barriers when health insurance is not attainable for them either through employment or government programs. Through Project Access®, over 500 physicians and dozens of community partners donate their time and services to patients, receiving minimal to no reimbursement or compensation.  Project Access® offers a comprehensive array of free or low-cost health care services, including primary and specialty care, hospital services, labs, imaging, medications, medical equipment, mental health/substance abuse services, alternative medicine, care management, social services, and more. Depending on funding, Project Access® has recently served annually anywhere from 2,500-6,000 individuals at a donated value between $8 million - $14 million.

“Enrolling low-income, uninsured Madison County residents into Project Access® will result in far better outcomes in health, as these uninsured will for the first time be able to access the same medical services as the insured population,” said Dr. Lisa Ladd, Chair of WCMS Foundation and volunteer Medical Director of Project Access®. “Project Access® prevents expensive, unnecessary emergency room use; improves quality of life for patients; and impacts the health of the community.” 

Evidence shows that uninsured individuals experience more adverse outcomes (physically, mentally, and financially) as compared to insured individuals. The uninsured are less likely to receive preventive and diagnostic health care services, are more often diagnosed at a later disease stage, and on average receive less treatment for their condition as compared to insured individuals. A lack of healthcare access, intensified by a distressed socioeconomic status, increases the risk of developing or exacerbating a chronic condition. “We expect these conditions to improve as more people can gain entry into Project Access®,” noted Dr. McDowell.

“Cross-county collaboration between HSHP and WCMSF Project Access® will strengthen our ability to advocate for access to health care and reduced health disparities. It will also improve relationships between physicians across counties regardless of institutional affiliation,” noted Miriam Schwarz, CEO of WCMS.  “Regionalizing provides incentives for more rural physicians, providers and dentists to volunteer in our growing network.”

This expansion is intended to be a springboard towards developing a multi-county WNC Project Access® regional network.

About the Western Carolina Medical Society:

The Western Carolina Medical Society was established in 1885 by area physicians. Throughout its history, WCMS has been an innovator in supporting and advocating for physicians in the practice of medicine, and working collaboratively with area organizations to address the health challenges facing our community’s residents. We serve 16 counties in the westernmost part of North Carolina, most of which is rural. Our vision is to be a dynamic physician community dedicated to a healthy, vibrant western North Carolina.

The WCMS Foundation’s mission is the physician- and community-led charitable arm of the medical society improving access to quality healthcare, decreasing disparities in health, and promoting health & wellness.

About Hot Springs Health Center:

The Hot Springs Health Program, a not for profit corporation, was established in 1971.  They currently have four Federally Qualified Health Center Look-a-likes that are located throughout Madison County.  In addition to the community health centers the Hot Springs Health Program has four pharmacies, and a home health and hospice program.  They also offer outpatient physical therapy.   The mission of the Hot Springs Health Program is meeting the primary health care needs of the people of Madison County and the surrounding areas through an organization oriented to and directed by the community.

About The Duke Endowment

Based in Charlotte and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $3.4 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations.