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Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners

A Word in Edgewise

By Commissioner Tim Norton

Investment in Elephants - September 16, 2014

One of our agenda items this week concerns the Elephant exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo. While our two elephants Cinda and Stephanie are popular and beloved, the issue of keeping them, housing them in a new facility and habitat grounds, and building large enough to have an expanded herd and meet American Zoological Association (AZA) standards has been criticized and become controversial.

Of course, there are several sides to the case for moving ahead with the project. Certainly, there is an emotional side for those that love the Zoo and can't imagine a visit without elephants. Cinda and Stephanie have been an attraction for many, many years. Just as compelling is the argument that to maintain the Zoo status as the number one tourist attraction in the State that elephants are an integral part.

We are a nationally accredited Zoo that meets stringent guidelines and procedures in the placement, breeding and care of the animals that we house. New standards were established several years ago by the AZA for the housing and care of elephants. These new guidelines precipitated a board dialogue and process to get us to this decision making point this week.

Certainly, the financial commitment from the County must come with analysis and scrutiny. The investment in the exhibit comes with a price tag. The Zoological Society embarked on a private fundraising effort like they have with most of the major exhibits at our Sedgwick County Zoo. Half of the needed money to insure that this updated elephant facility and habitat has been raised. Sedgwick County has been asked to participate so that the project can move forward.

We are blessed to have this wonderful amenity in our community. Sedgwick County commissioners and the public made some incredible, thoughtful, forward-thinking, expensive and tough decisions decades ago. We are bearing the fruits of their insights and actions today. The decisions to invest significant taxpayers' dollars in the Zoo should not be taken lightly. I know the board of the Zoo has spent time, energy and intellectual capital in the process of determining the best course of action. I have always been supportive of the Zoo in the context of making sure it thrives and serves generations to come. The new elephant facility and habitat falls into that category.

Thanks for letting me get a word in edgewise.


Project Access - September 16, 2014

This September, Project Access will be celebrating its 15th serving the uninsured in Sedgwick County. It started as pilot project based on a successful mode in Asheville, N.C. and was designed to improve access to health care for thousands of Sedgwick County uninsured.

Since 1999, the organization has coordinated more than $160 million in donated medical care for nearly 12,100 patients. Project Access is a non-profit affiliate of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County. It operates as a central hub that connects uninsured, low-income people in need of health care with an extensive networks of physicians, hospitals and other providers who deliver health care services at no cost, all of whom have agreed to donate their care.

Most (65%) of Project Access patients are employed, though more than three-fourths are at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level (annual income of $29,436 for a family of four). The population served are working folks that just can't afford health insurance coverage.

A strong triad of public and private funders are part of making sure that these medical services are available for the most vulnerable in our community. Sedgwick County, the City of Wichita and the United Way of the Plains have partnered for years to insure a steady funding source. Today, the agency is facing significant financial challenges after years of cuts from its public partners. The organization is embarking on a new fundraising strategy designed to diversify its funding base.

Past success has been attributable to a generous medical community, with over 600 physicians participating as well as eight local hospital systems and thousands of other providers who participate. Partnerships with local non-profit clinics to ensure continuation of care and non-duplication of services include the Center for Health and Wellness, Guadalupe Clinic, GraceMed Clinic, Hunter Health Clinic and E.C. Tyree.

Project Access had been a huge success story but more than that has stayed true to its original goals. The secret has been based on the idea of collaboration and coordination. The extraordinary amount of donated care, the Public/Private partnership, the coordination of all the providers and partners, and the pharmaceutical program can all be attributed to a mission driven and well-managed Project Access staff and volunteers. Thanks to all the volunteer physicians, providers, contributors and board whom along with Jon Rosell, Executive director of the Medical Society, Anne Nelson, Project Access director and Board President Dr. Thomas Bloxham ensure the operation is effective, efficient, sustainable and serves this vulnerable population year after year.

Thanks for letting me get a word in edgewise.