History Of Access Health Stark County
With a national movement for Cover the Uninsured in progress, the founders of AHSC made an initial presentation in 2007 to the Stark County Medical Society on the concept of access, which resulted in the Goodwill Community Campus becoming our sponsor. This was the beginning of the development of AHSC. The first Executive Director was hired in 2008.
Prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), for the indigent and uninsured was facilitated by a state program that gave benefits to hospitals for providing diagnostic tests, including x-rays and laboratory work. Karen’s Law allowed unused medications to be made available at no cost and Beacon Pharmacy (previously PAN) was developed to meet this need. Stark County had two medical clinics that provided free access to physicians and one FQHC where access to physicians was at reduced cost.
While these programs provided a safety net for a minority of the uninsured, access to the health care system was primarily through the emergency room because there was no pathway to care from practicing physicians. AHSC began obtaining commitments from specialty and primary care doctors to accept a set number of uninsured patients into their practice each year. Referrals to these services were made and coordinated, including reminders for follow-ups. For the first time, more advanced specialty services and surgery were available to these underserved patients, providing $1 million in donated care.
With the ACA came expansion of Medicaid eligibility in Ohio and AHSC transitioned to providing navigators that provided assistance in registering for this free comprehensive insurance for the demographic they had been serving. The wider availability of access to care for this group brought the realization that many patients still needed support to understand benefits from the health care system. With so many new participants it was no longer possible to continue the one on one support that was integral to the success of the referral program.
The employment of Community Health Workers (CHWs) as new partners in Stark County health care teams was proposed as a new direction to AHSC in furthering its mission. To evaluate the potential of this approach, a white paper was commissioned to document the training, placement, employment, credentialing, and the future of Community Health Workers. It was clear that they could function as trusted patient advocates and facilitate beneficial outcomes for patients and providers as well.
Consequently, AHSC transitioned again in 2015 to partner with other organizations to train, place, support, and eventually employee CHWs. In addition, the importance of making this role a sustainable career was prioritized. Documenting both cost savings and improved outcomes would be instrumental in gaining support for the reimbursement required to integrate CHWs in the continuum of care. For this reason, a partnership with Kent State University was formed to collect and analyze appropriate data.