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Durham Health Summit To Focus On Uninsured

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. – Listening to concerns of Durham residents without health insurance and discussing ways to increase access to health care is the focus of a Nov. 3 Durham Health Summit.

The free gathering -- sponsored by Duke University Health System (DUHS) and the Results-Based Accountability Initiative of Durham city and county governments -- runs from 8 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. at the downtown Durham Civic Center, 201 Foster St. Registration is open though Nov. 2.

Hundreds of participants are expected, including people without insurance who cannot afford health care and residents interested in improving access to health care. Among other things, they will discuss health plan options for uninsured people in Durham County, including Project Access, a program that would expand access to specialty care using donated care from local physicians.

Hearing the concerns of people without health insurance is important, said Dr. Victor Dzau, DUHS president and chief executive officer, who will moderate several question-and-answer sessions at the summit.

"Without a broad community effort to ensure that people lacking health insurance have access to medical care, the successes of biomedical science and research cannot be translated fully into clinical practice and create the broadest benefits for society," Dzau said. "That is what the Durham Health Summit is about. It is an important step in addressing health disparities in Durham -- and, ultimately, around the world. The Health Summit is also about finding solutions together, such as Project Access."

Ellen Reckhow, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners and moderator of several question-and-answer sessions, said Project Access "will expand the safety net of care for our citizens by providing appointments with private doctors in their offices. This should greatly increase access to specialty care and complement the services provided at Lincoln Community Health Center."

The gathering is an outgrowth of an April 2006 state health summit that focused on health care disparities. Since December 2006, a Durham group has worked on a local solution to the problem.

Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin said the summit aims to help the poorest of the poor.

"Learning and understanding more about the sea of folks who aren't just uninsured but can't even get insurance -- can't afford it or can't get it because of health reasons -- opened my eyes that there are gaps that need to be filled," Ruffin said. "People out there are making the wrong health care choices and, more important, making non-health care choices."

Gayle Harris, assistant director of the Durham County Health Department, said the summit will offer uninsured people a chance to share their thoughts with community and health care leaders.

"We don't want to build something that doesn't work for the people who will be served," Harris said. "It's great to see major stakeholders coming together -- stepping up to the plate saying, 'We can do this.'"

Also scheduled to appear at the summit are U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C.; Dr. Pam Silberman, executive director of the N.C. Institute of Medicine; Dr. Jonathan Oberlander, associate professor of social medicine and health policy and administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dr. Evelyn Schmidt, director of Lincoln Community Health Center; Dr. Sherman James, professor of public policy at Duke's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy; Dr. Howard Eisenson of Duke, representing the Durham and Orange County Medical Society; and Mat Despard of Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN).

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