Building A Culture Of Health: Access To Care
Note: On Oct. 28, Spartanburg was named a 2015 winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize. In becoming one of just eight communities nationwide to earn the designation out of more than 300 applicants, Spartanburg was recognized by the leading health philanthropy in the country for its years of work in addressing health outcomes countywide. While this work has brought dozens of organizations and hundreds of people together, the effort has coalesced around five broad areas: Active Living/Healthy Eating, Access To Care, Behavioral Health, Healthy Birth Outcomes, and Smoking Reduction.
This is Part 2 of a concise five-part look at the progress that has been made over the past several years in each of these focus areas. In this part, we look at Access To Care.
If the transformation of an entire community happens one changed life at a time, ground zero for Spartanburg’s effort to improve the health of its citizens might just be, of all places, the county jail. And a soft-spoken man named Dwight Rice who used to be held there might just be the effort’s poster child.
In 2013, Rice, 44, had been at the Spartanburg County Detention Center for 14 months on a minor charge that nevertheless carried a bond amount that was too high a hurdle for Rice and his family to overcome. His legal troubles only compounded some health problems that were long-running though manageable with proper and consistent care.
“I had my appendix removed while I was in jail. And I had a hernia,” Rice said. “I remember with everything going on, I was worried about how I was going to pay for medication. I still remember the day they told me I had visitors. It was (AccessHealth Spartanburg Director) Carey (Rothschild) and Bonnie (Carpenter), my first case manager. They told me that they would help me. And they kept their word.
“They helped me get my medication. They checked up on me. When I got out, I went to the office. They helped me fill out the paperwork that I didn’t know how to fill out. They introduced me to my doctor. They helped me get a breathing machine for my sleep apnea. They hooked me up with a nutritionist. They helped me get insurance. They just kept helping me.
“I didn’t ask for these people. They just came and found me and treated me like I was family. They changed my life. What those ladies did for me and still do for me changed everything.”
Rice is just one of hundreds of people AccessHealth Spartanburg has helped since its founding in 2010 thanks to the generosity of dozens of local physicians who donate their care to people who qualify for the AccessHealth program. The results have been astonishing. As people who previously were unable to get treatment except through the emergency room are able to improve their circumstances through AccessHealth’s connections, their improving health has cascaded into millions of dollars in savings for the local health care system as expensive, unpaid emergency room visits have been reduced.
AccessHealth Spartanburg is successful because it puts the onus on the entire community to improve access to health care rather than relying on one-or-two organizations to tackle the unwieldy challenge. By serving as an intermediary between participants and a network of health care providers, AccessHealth provides a mechanism for community partners to work together to create sustainable health system change.
Spartanburg Regional Health System is the backbone organization of the initiative, but AccessHealth relies on a broad network of partners to execute the program strategy.
Collaborating with physicians is integral to AccessHealth’s mission and its program model. The organization works with over 200 physicians and their office staff to connect clients to primary care and wrap-around specialty services.
Ten initial organizations partnered to form AccessHealth’s advisory board and continue to serve. This board guides the organization’s major goals and strategies. Partner organizations include: Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, Mary Black Health System, St. Luke’s Free Medical Clinic, ReGenesis Healthcare, Spartanburg County Medical Society, Welvista, Spartanburg Area Department of Mental Health, Spartanburg Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission DHEC and USC Upstate.
More recent partnerships have been formed with Middle Tyger Community Center, Westgate Family Therapy, United Housing Coalition, Sherman Chiropractic College, Miracle Hill Homeless Shelter and the Spartanburg County Detention Center.
Further scaling up that approach is the goal of the Access To Care task force that Rothschild co-chairs. Key to the effort is understanding where the barriers and obstacles remain. As more people are enrolled, and with so many different physicians and medical homes involved in the effort, a need for a medical director who can help coordinate care and ensure each client is connected to their proper medical home has emerged, Rothschild said. The Access To Care task force would use the $25,000 award to help fund that position.
In the end, connecting more people like Rice to the help they need is the goal and replicating his story is the goal. Today, Rice is working and his health is continuing to improve. His future and that of his family is brighter than it has been in years.
“I used to struggle to get out of bed in the mornings,” Rice said. “Every day I woke up tired with a headache. Now, I wake up energized and go to the gym.”