Q&A: Project Access’ Sally Wilson discusses challenges behind – and ahead – for nonprofit

Sally Wilson, executive director of Project Access of Durham County, stands in the nonprofit’s office surrounded by medical equipment. (Photo by Uma Bhat.)

Monday, April 29, 2024

By Uma Bhat

Sally Wilson is the executive director of Project Access of Durham County, a non-profit launched in 2008 to provide uninsured Durham residents with access to donated specialty medical care. The organization has continued to expand to meet the community’s needs.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Durham Voice: Could you talk a little bit about what challenges you’ve seen over the past few years, especially coming out of COVID-19?

Sally Wilson: During COVID-19, we probably, like everybody, learned to adapt more. We used to do all our enrollments in person, then we adapted to being able to do those as mail-in or phone.

We definitely saw some delay in care-seeking among clients. So we’ve seen the pent-up demand for care that didn’t happen those years. Because we don’t operate a clinic, I’m not sure how much we experienced the same stresses the health system and clinics experience.

We were doing a lot of work. We supported homeless people to isolate who had COVID-19 during the pandemic, so we were pretty involved in supporting the community around that. That was larger for us. We also supported some community health workers and doing some of the COVID-19 support work.

Tell me about how Project Access is funded. What’s your relationship with Duke?

Our core operating support comes from Durham County. They paid for the involvement of patients in the program and scheduling medical appointments.

We also have a grant from the Duke Endowment. The Duke Endowment funds donated care networks across North and South Carolina that are collectively called “Access Care Networks.” We are one of those networks that’s funded by the Duke Endowment.

Since we got started with our primary mission, the donated care network, we have also added a health equipment loan program. We take in gently used crutches, wheelchairs and walkers, clean and repair them, sanitize them and loan them out at no cost to anyone in Durham.

We also have a Homeless Care Transitions program. We help homeless people being discharged from the hospital who need some short-term housing as a place to stay, to just sort of rest and recover. So we also have those programs as well.

What challenges do you foresee ahead post-Covid?

We’re obviously pretty excited about Medicaid expansion. It’s exciting being able to transition some of our patients on Medicaid. It’s just sort of the challenges that always come with this sort of work, whenever there’s a lot of leadership transitions, and sort of reintroducing the program to people, making new relationships.

I feel like there’s always challenges, so I can’t think of anything unique other than operating as a nonprofit. Trying to seek funding, trying to do good work and evaluating your programs — sort of standard challenges.

What are your goals for the next five to 10 years?

We’ve added to programs, we also have been doing some work in supporting the development of the community health worker workforce. I think that’s another interesting question. Certainly the state funded community health workers during the first years of COVID-19. And that funding ended, I’m not sure if they’re going to find a way to fund community health workers, but I’m certainly interested in that topic. So we’ve been playing more of a supportive role in workforce development around community health workers, but I am interested in doing more intensive work around chronic disease management or some home-based care.