02/20/12 — WATCH not adding patients

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WATCH not adding patients

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 20, 2012 1:46 PM

WATCH, or Wayne Action Teams for Community Health, has once again decided not to accept new patients.

The non-profit health care option for uninsured Wayne County residents is operating at full capacity, officials say, prompting the recent move.

"This was a difficult decision, but the board determined that it was better to provide excellent care to the patients currently on our roster than to continue to add patients whom we would be unable to serve well," said Sissy Lee-Elmore, WATCH executive director.

Existing patients currently will still be seen at the clinics, she said.

The WATCH Healthcare Program operates a mobile unit and a stationary location at the Goldsboro Family YMCA. During 2011, WATCH recorded 11,300 patient visits. It was also able to provide an estimated $2 million in medications at no cost to patients, through collaborative efforts with pharmaceutical companies' patient assistance programs.

Funding through the years has come from a variety of sources -- grants, local government, Wayne Memorial Hospital, the United Way, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and other donors. An annual golf tournament for WATCH has brought in more than $680,000 since it inception 12 years ago.

The WATCH board and staff are investigating new sources of funding that, hopefully, will allow new patients to sign up in the future, Mrs. Lee-Elmore said.

Meanwhile, this is not the first time the decision has been made to cap services for those lacking access to health care.

The board made a similar announcement in January 2006, and Mrs. Lee-Elmore said that only the existing patient load would be served.

At that time, WATCH just had the mobile van, which travels the county serving the indigent population.

The second location, at the YMCA, was introduced in August 2009, and an additional nurse practitioner was also brought on board.

Officials continued to monitor patient numbers, noting that wait time for patient appointments had been five to six weeks. With the addition of the second clinic, that was reduced to about a week, but as more uninsured people sought medical care through WATCH, bottlenecks in scheduling resumed.

By December 2010, Mrs. Lee-Elmore said the program continued to have more patients than it could handle.

And in December 2011, she told the board that the program was "swamped" and volunteers were heavily relied upon to support and sustain the growing numbers being served.