The Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County has given new grants to four local organizations that provide healthcare services to underserved populations.
The agency has two missions. One is to invest in local health sciences research with the goal of developing that sector of the region’s economy. The second is to provide funds to local agencies that tend to the needs of people who can’t afford health care. During the last seven years HSSA has provided more than $1.5 million to do that. This year, the agency has given $300,000, spreading it among four agencies.
One of the recipients is Volunteers of America, which is the new operator of a existing program called Hot Spotters. Steven Miller, the agency’s director of adult services, says the “hot spotters” are those people, usually poor, who are the most frequent users of hospital emergency rooms.
“They were calling the fire department or the police department continually to deal with situations these people would find themselves in," Miller said. "And they aren’t criminal activity so much as they’re people with co-occurring factors such as addictions or mental health issues.”
Miller says the program pulls together all the services these people need so that they don’t feel like they have to visit the provider of last resort, the emergency room, where care is generally more expensive.
“I think it’s worked fairly well in Spokane in terms of turning around a number of people’s lives that are affected by the situations and the circumstances that they found themselves in and giving them a coordinated effort,” he said.
HSSA has funded the program for several years, including $120,000 for 2017. But Miller says this may be the last time it gets the agency’s cash. Now the partners in the program are working with Eastern Washington University to quantify the amount of money it saves the community as it works to attract funding from other sources.
The HSSA is giving $30,000 to another successful existing program: the Spokane Prescription Access Network. It’s part of a statewide organization called the Prescription Drug Assistance Foundation, founded by retired Spokane physician Dr. Sam Selinger.
Its executive director, Kelly Armstrong, says the foundation was authorized by the legislature to provide free help to people who can’t get the prescription drugs they need. Before the Affordable Care Act took effect, she says, the main customers had low incomes. They were people for whom Medicaid paid for their prescriptions. These days ACA covers them through subsidized health plans. Now Armstrong’s customers come from different demographics.
“Higher income populations. Those that have plans that they have taken out through the health care exchanges with the very high deductibles and co-pays making it difficult to access any services, those people that chose not to take out a plan because they just couldn’t afford the monthly premiums and then we’ve seen a real shift in our Medicare customers, our older and disabled population,” Armstrong said.
In making the grant, the HSSA cited the high value that Armstrong’s organization provides in terms of number of people helped per dollars spent.
The two other HSSA grant recipients are Partners with Families and Children, which has received $50,000 to help child sexual abuse victims with specific needs, and Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners, or SNAP. Its Ride to Care program will receive $100,000 to provide transportation to people who now call 9-1-1, not because they need an ambulance to go to the hospital, but because they don’t have other ways to get to the doctor or to urgent care.