With so many high visible and highly priced residential neighborhoods, it can be easy to overlook the fact that Beaufort County is home to thousands of people who live in poverty.
Those residents often have little or no access to health care, and filling that gap is the mission of AccessHealth Lowcountry, a new program that works to link uninsured 19- to 64-year-olds with providers who offer free or reduced-price services.
“Everybody knows somebody who is uninsured or underinsured, and we are there to help,” Program Director Debbie Slazyk told Bluffton Rotarians.  “Many people, even though they have jobs and work every day, aren’t insured.  And the main barriers to care are either financial or geographical.”
For many people with little or no insurance, their primary care provider is a hospital emergency room – which Slazyk called a very expensive but avoidable proposition.  AccessHealth Lowcountry’s services include helping people apply for insurance, linking them with local providers who provide low-cost or donated services, and even providing gas vouchers or transportation to a network of free clinics.
One local provider of health services for the poor, Volunteers in Medicine, had 33,000 visits last year.
Planning for AccessHealth Lowcountry began in 2009, and the primary funding boost can in 2009 with a half-million-dollar two-year grant from the Duke Endowment.  Slazyk said her organization hopes to get refunded by the Duke Endowment in May.
Developing a network of free dental care providers is an area of emphasis for HealthAccess Lowcountry.  Slazyk told Bluffton Rotarians that dental problems are one of the primary reasons that uninsured people visit emergency rooms, where their pain is often treated with antibiotics that don’t address the underlying problem.  Almost inevitably, additional emergency room visits follow.
Headquartered at Beaufort Memorial Hospital,  AccessHealth Lowcountry is one of 10 South Carolina hospital association networks created to help uninsured patients get care and manage medical needs. The program is a broader model for a healthy outcomes initiative that focuses on patients who frequently use hospitals' emergency services, Slazyk said.