Efforts by a group of area physicians have helped shrink the pool of community residents without access to adequate health care while providing an avenue for physicians to deliver more charity care. "Reach Out of Montgomery County" is one of 39 initiatives highlighted in the January 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The article describes the experiences of a nationwide Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) initiative, "Reach Out: Physicians Initiative to Expand Care to Underserved Americans" that was launched in 1993. The initiative mobilized doctors around the country to develop local strategies for delivering health care services to underserved and uninsured patients who lack the ability to pay.
"Reach Out of Montgomery County" provides health care to uninsured patients in evening clinics held at both East Dayton and Charles R. Drew West Dayton Health Centers. Wright State University School of Medicine, the Montgomery County Combined Health District, the Montgomery County Medical Society, and area hospitals have developed a sustained system of volunteer recruitment of physicians, nurses, social workers, and other health care professionals to provide care for patients.
The project has also conducted in depth research on the health care needs of Dayton residents, including documenting the plight of the working poor--27 percent in Montgomery County, about 26,250 people--who work full time but lack health care insurance. Montgomery County's successful "Reach Out" program uses trained Community Health Advocates to share information and locate potential patients.
Project Director, Dr. Syed Ahmed, notes that the local project has had more than 5,000 patient visits since opening March 1, 1995. "Just in 1999," notes Dr. Ahmed, "we had 210 active volunteers providing 2,088 hours. The success of this program is due to the concern and goodwill of our volunteers and our community."
Over five years, the national "Reach Out" program enrolled nearly 200,000 patients and recruited more than 11,000 physicians who were willing to deliver charity care. With more than 44 million uninsured people in the U.S. and some 600,000 physicians in practice, the JAMA article authors admit that the numbers "may seem like a drop in the ocean." Dr. Ahmed explains, "I do not have any illusion that volunteerism will solve the monumental problem of the uninsured and underserved, but it can still contribute as a force that overcomes some access barriers."
RWJF's funding of the national "Reach Out" program has ended, but through community support of more than 25 local agencies and organizations, the local initiative will continue to meet the health care needs of area residents.