Northeast Georgia Medical Center was recently named “Large Hospital of the Year” by The Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.
In selecting the medical center as the winner, the group also praised the center for its efforts to provide health care for uninsured Hall County residents through its partnership with the Hall County Medical Society’s Health Access Initiative.
“In addition to being a bedrock health care institution with the very best in professionals, equipment and facilities, Northeast Georgia has taken an innovative approach to providing primary and specialty care to patients who have no public or private insurance coverage,” said Monty Veazey, Georgia Alliance CEO. “Their efforts have resulted in a program that brings the entire community together and serves as a national model.”
The Health Access Initiative grew out of a community health survey that was conducted more than a decade ago.
“In the late 1990s, the medical center along with several other partners in the community conducted a community health assessment,” said Christy Moore, medical center Community Health Improvement program manager.
“The group, known as Healthy Hall, looked at the data and realized that there were a lot of uninsured residents in Hall County.”
“From there, another group was created to pinpoint what other communities were doing to help the uninsured residents in their area and we came across a program (similar to the access initiative) in Asheville, North Carolina. We asked local physicians if this was something they wanted to delve into — to help the uninsured — and that’s when the ball really started rolling. We looked at other programs to see how they can be tailored to address the specific needs of Hall County.”
The local access program was officially launched in 2003. The goal of the independent program is to help low income patients obtain access to specialty care that exceeds the resources of free clinics or health departments. The initiative is a network of more than 180 private practice physicians, covering 24 specialty areas, who have volunteered to do donate care in their offices for qualified patients.
“(The medical center) is very important to the program. NGMC provides funding through The Medical Center Foundation’s Healthy Journey Campaign and our office space rent free,” said Kim Smith, initiative executive director. “And patients that qualify for help through our program receive diagnostic services such as lab work and X-rays as well as other hospital services at no charge.”
Other program partners include Good News Clinics, Hall County Health Department, United Way of Hall County, MedLink and Department of Family and Children Services.
To be eligible for the program, patients must not have public or private insurance, nor access to it. Patients must have a household income that is less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level — for a family of four that’s around $33,000. Participants must also be referred to the program by a participating network physician or by one of the community partners.
So far this year, the program has assisted more than 1,500 patients, scheduled more than 5,000 appointments with participating service providers and provided donated services that total more than $9 million.
“Hall County is the rare exception when caring for the uninsured. It is challenging to care for the needs of the low income, uninsured during the best of times and even more challenging as the demands for services increase during trying economic times,” said Smith.
“This community realizes that there are more needs than any one organization can handle. Thanks to strong partnerships with key community leaders, we are all able to openly communicate and work together to meet these needs.”