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With No National Solutions in Sight, Chatham County Takes on the Health Care Crisis at Home


  Kristina Heuman
Porter Novelli

                   Healthcare Georgia Foundation Grant Highlights Strategies for Filling Gaps in Care

Atlanta, Georgia – June 23, 2008 – An innovative new program in Chatham County, Ga. is finding traction in one of the most pervasive health care crises around:  the use of emergency rooms as primary care providers to patients without adequate health insurance.  By drawing on community resources more effectively, Chatham County has been able to provide health care services to its uninsured and underinsured populations at a fraction of the cost of primary care delivered in an emergency room.  Healthcare Georgia Foundation released today, A Case for Health: Community Health Mission, a case study highlighting the strengths and successes of the health “safety net” structure that has been developed to serve low income individuals and families in Chatham County, Ga., regardless of their ability to pay for health care services.

Healthcare Georgia Foundation commissioned a case study to highlight the work of Chatham County’s Safety Net Planning Council, focusing on the positive results that this model of care brings to residents through the work of Community Health Mission, a local clinic and active Council member. The case study highlights necessary components of a safety net structure as well as challenges to consider when using the model.

“The story of Community Health Mission and the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council demonstrates how leadership at the individual, organizational and community level can make a tangible difference in the lives of people in need of care,” said Dr. Gary Nelson, Healthcare Georgia Foundation president.  

Chatham County’s success lies in its creation of a multi-disciplinary “safety net” including local hospitals, community and nonprofit organizations, and social service agencies that work together to provide support for low income and uninsured residents.  Some key attributes of the safety net include the following: 

  • Volunteer Networks and Partnerships.  Community Health Mission provides free health care services to nearly 6,000 uninsured and low income residents in the Savannah area.  Understanding the importance of collaboration in providing care to people, the clinic not only utilizes a network of more than 100 volunteers – including physicians and other health care professionals – to provide care, but it relies on other members of the Safety Net Council to fill gaps in services.  Partnerships developed with local hospitals have led to equipment and service donations, such as mammogram and cancer screenings, as well as strong relationships with specialty care providers, enabling patients to get the care they need at a fraction of the cost.  The average cost of care at Community Health Mission is $50 for a primary care visit compared to $260 for a primary care visit in a Chatham County hospital emergency room.
  • Prevention Emphasis.  Through its wellness program, Community Health Mission educates patients on basic chronic disease prevention including diabetes management and smoking cessation.  In 2007, more than 400 patients participated in disease prevention wellness programs; more than 1,100 breast and cervical cancer screenings were conducted; and exercise levels and vegetable consumption increased among diabetes management program participants.
  • Results Measurement.  To measure progress, the Council implemented uniform metrics that each safety net member reports against. Members like Community Health Mission can see the true difference they are making individually as well as collectively as part of the Council. Results can be used to strengthen the safety net as members seek support and funding, both individually and collaboratively, as well as to improve programs and processes among Council members.

“It is critical to have the support of local government to have a successful safety net,” said Dr. Diane Weems, chair of the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council and chief medical officer for the Chatham County Public Health Department. “In addition, you need to bring key players to the table and work together to advance the health of people; productive collaboration strengthens individual member organizations by providing additional resources and outlets for providing care.”

For Community Health Mission, the success of the safety net structure can be seen in the lives of patients.  “Being part of the Safety Net Council gives us resources to provide our patients with comprehensive primary and specialty care,” said Dr. Miriam Rittmeyer, executive director of Community Health Mission. “Our goal is to not only provide them with quality care, but to treat each and every patient with respect, and to provide services in a safe, welcoming environment where they know they can have a medical home.”

About Healthcare Georgia Foundation
Healthcare Georgia Foundation is a statewide, private independent foundation. The Foundation’s mission is to advance the health of all Georgians and to expand access to affordable, quality healthcare for underserved individuals and communities. Through its strategic grantmaking, Healthcare Georgia Foundation supports organizations that drive positive change, promotes programs that improve health and healthcare among underserved individuals and communities, and connects people, partners and resources across Georgia. For more information, please visit the Foundation online at: