Region receives $240,632 for health care 'safety net'

Rick Wagner • Apr 11, 2007 at 11:48 AM

A Tennessee grant of nearly a quarter of a million dollars will be used to help start a charity care "safety net" program in Sullivan and Washington counties, officials said Wednesday.

Co-directors of Appalachian Mountain Program Access (AMPA) are seeking more participants in the medical community, while others are working on possible sources of Virginia start-up grant money to serve Washington County, Va., and beyond. The program also could expand farther in Northeast Tennessee.

Kingsport Tomorrow Inc. has received a $240,632 "Healthcare Safety Net Primary Care Services" grant from the Tennessee Department of Health, with the money expected to come in June.

The money will be given out as $25 for each primary care visit and $89 for each specialty care visit through AMPA until it is exhausted, according to plans outlined in a documents from the AMPA Exploratory Committee and Co-director Ed Hannah.

"It's been about a year the committee has been working," Hannah said Wednesday.

The co-project managers are Hannah, who started March 5, and Lacy Holloway-McDonald, who started Feb. 12 but was in Nashville Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

Hannah said Gary Mayes, director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, is helping lead the program, but Mayes could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Wellmont Health System, Mountain States Health Alliance and Johnston Memorial Hospital have provided seed money to hire the two project access managers for four months, growing out of a plan originally to hire one manager for six months. Wellmont and MSHA provided $19,000 each, while Johnston provided $2,000.

The focus of the program now is to convince physician groups and others to join the program, which allows participants to define the amount of charity care they are willing and able to provide and track charity care provided.

"For this type of organization to work, it has to be physician driven," said Andy Hall, director of community affairs for Wellmont.

The program, according to Hannah, will work toward an equitable distribution of charity care services among providers, thus preventing a single provider from giving more than a fair share.

"That's pretty much the message very early in the program we are trying to disseminate to physicians in the area," said Dr. Dan David, who serves on the faculty of the Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University and is a provider with ETSU Family Medicine Associates.

AMPA also will screen potential charity care patients for eligibility. They are eligible for services under the program for a specific period of time as long as criteria are met. In addition, AMPA tracks the dollar value of charity care provided.

So far, AMPA partners include Friends in Need Clinic in Kingsport; Healing Hands Health Center in Bristol; Johnson City Downtown Clinic; Highlands Physicians Inc.; Health Alliance PHO; the hospitals of Wellmont; the hospitals of MSHA; and Johnston Memorial Hospital.

McDonald and Hannah have visited Nashville to look at its Bridges to Care program, attended the Conference of the North Carolina Association for Healthcare Access in Charlotte, and visited Knoxville to learn about the Knoxville Area Project Access program.

"This (Tennessee grant) will go toward hiring the staff to get the program started," said Hannah, who was involved in the Chattanooga and Nashville projects.

Among safety net access programs nationwide, Nashville's program started in 2000, while Knoxville's started in 2005 and Chattanooga's Project Access Partnership began in 2004.

The programs originated out of the Community Health Improvement Partnership in Buncombe County, N.C., in 1995.

For more information contact AMPA at 224-2352.

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