2/1/2012 - The annual Heartstrings fundraiser benefiting the Western Carolina Medical Society is set for Feb. 12 at the Asheville Mall
by Jonathan Rich Citizen-Times Correspondent
ASHEVILLE -- The annual HeartStrings fundraising event to benefit the Western Carolina Medical Society does more than just collect money for the local organization that speaks out on behalf of the region's medical professionals and their patients.
Visitors to Asheville Mall on Feb. 12 will notice the event's various CrossFit, Zumba and mall-walking sessions as well as the many health screenings available to help improve their personal health.
But HeartStrings also gives participants a way to help the greater community by supporting the Project Access system that assists low-income, uninsured people in getting the medical care they need in an efficient and cost-effective way.
"HeartStrings enables us to provide prescription medications, durable medical equipment and other direct services beyond the healthcare that is donated for these patients by physicians who participate in the program," said Jana Kellam, the medical society's director of foundation programs.
"Without HeartStrings, our ability to provide the 'wrap-around services' would be severely limited. First and foremost, people who are uninsured and unable to pay for their needed health care are able to have access to high quality care," Kellam said. "They are then able to get back on their feet and be healthy again."
Ultimately, she said, "Project Access saves lives. It's a coordinated system of providing this charity care to the community, so Project Access improves efficiencies in the health care system.
"It keeps people from having to utilize the emergency room or urgent care facilities as primary care homes, freeing up these resources for true emergent situations," Kellam said.
'A safety net'
Last year, the Project Access network of providers served more than 4,000 low-income, uninsured patients and offered an estimated value of $14 million in health care to people who otherwise may not have been able to afford or obtain it.
"I've seen numerous Buncombe County residents benefit immensely from both HeartStrings and Project Access' hard work," said HeartStrings volunteer Jamey Atkins, who has been part of the annual event since 2003.
"We're talking about a safety net, not a hammock; it helps them maintain their health in a dignified manner, as only their doctor knows how their care is paid for," Atkins said.
"Regardless of recessions or economic growth periods, health care must be maintained for a viable community, and no one is guaranteed the provisions for such," he said. "Project Access serves as a 'small Samaritan' in that endeavor."
Jeff Carnivale has served as a fitness instructor at previous events and said he knew how important the work of WCMS was across the region.
"We all know the doctors in the area donate services to patients who fall through the insurance gaps," Carnivale said, "and I see this as a way of saying thanks, and that we can come out and help."
Carnivale said he himself would qualify for Project Access services.
"I have made healthy lifestyle choices and been fortunate not to need care, but I have had a number of friends and colleagues that have," he said.
"Just think about the negative economic impact of a working class family if a wage earner without health insurance is unable to work because of medical reasons or needs treatment for an injury," Carnivale said. "Project Access is ensuring this family is not in financial distress for life."
Something for everyone
While celebrating Project Access' noble cause is part of the purpose of Heartstrings, its focus is on encouraging participants to be more active on an individual level.
"HeartStrings is a fun, family-friendly fundraiser that is appropriate for anyone who is interested in improving the health of our community," Kellam said.
"We have a little something for everyone. If CrossFit is a bit too intimidating for you, you can always jump in on the Zumba class. If Zumba is just not your thing, you can learn all about ChiWalking. And if ChiWalking seems outside your comfort zone, you can jump in with the mall walking group."
Registration for the event is $30, but Kellam says that is a deal considering what participants get in return.
"The registration fee includes a one-hour c lass in one of the activities as well as the health screenings and even a post-event massage, but the real reason for the fee is to raise funds for Project Access," she said.
"Essentially, it's a win-win situation: you get to participate in a fun activity in the middle of the Asheville Mall, and you get to help Project Access continue providing donated healthcare to our community's citizens," Kellam said.
"You may not ever need to be enrolled in Project Access," she said. "But if you do, won't it be nice to know that it's available to help you when you need it most?"