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Foundation works to expand healthcare access

Dr. Gary Nelson doesn't want to put a bandage where a stitch should be.

Instead, the President of the Healthcare Georgia Foundation wants to figure out a bigger solution to healthcare access issues across the state.

"If you can effect a positive change ... you can really affect the quality of life of some of the people," he said. "The health of each of us is affected by the health of all of us."

Dr. Nelson was in Thomson last week to meet with Foundation Board Chairman - and McDuffie County resident - Joseph Greene.

"We certainly are aware of his dedication and his service to his community," Dr. Nelson said.

As for Dr. Greene, he calls the Healthcare Georgia Foundation one of the most "important" boards he serves on. The Foundation focuses on bolstering various non-profit groups aimed at helping the "underserved" receive appropriate medical care and attention.

"I feel so good about what we are doing," Dr. Greene said while sitting at a table at White Columns. "... I can see we are making a positive difference."

The Foundation has handed out more than $22 million in 220 grants across the state in the last five years, monies earmarked for opening health care avenues to the underprivileged throughout Georgia. So far, the Foundation has not given a grant specifically to a McDuffie County non-profit (other than a $1,000 donation to the annual Relay for Life effort), but Dr. Nelson said some groups that have received grants - like the CSRA Community Foundation - provide services locally.

Now, the Foundation is focused on three major areas:

‚ΔΆ expanding access to healthcare

‚ΔΆ addressing the healthcare disparity between races, socioeconomic levels and geographical locations

‚ΔΆ strengthening local non-profits.

The Foundation was formed in 1999, when Blue Cross/Blue Shield decided to shift to a for-profit operation. At the time, a $120 million endowment was set aside to improve access to healthcare. Dr. Nelson has been with the foundation for about five years.

Both Dr. Greene and Dr. Nelson said the Foundation's focus would continue to be broad, not focused in on certain areas of the state.

"There's a strong, strong interest in distributing our grants across the state," Dr. Nelson said.

Another issue the Foundation is taking a close look at is the struggle of rural hospitals, like McDuffie Regional Medical Center. The Foundation already has a few programs in place to help such hospitals, but Dr. Nelson said efforts could be stepped up.

"One voice is seldom heard," he said. "I think one thing the Foundation can do is bring many voices together and bring attention to such issues."

For more information on the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, check out:

Web posted on Thursday, June 8, 2006

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