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Partner Profile

Western Carolina Medical Society

A non-profit organization that exists to support health and wellbeing in the region, the Western Carolina Medical Society (WCMS) has been busy this past year building dozens of new partnerships to better serve both healthcare providers and the community. Founded in 1885, WCMS has evolved over the years from primarily serving Buncombe County to serving all 18 counties and the Qualla Boundary.

WCMS has four guiding principles: advocacy, access, equity and wellness. Their mission is to advocate for the health of Western North Carolinians, assist with access to affordable healthcare for all, eliminate health inequities and improve the well-being and health of the region.

“All of our programs support these four pillars,” says CEO Miriam Schwarz. “One of our flagship programs is Project Access®, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.” A nationally replicated initiative in hundreds of communities in 32 states from Alaska to Florida, Project Access® is an innovative, coordinated network of over 700 volunteer physicians, providers, and organizations all providing access to comprehensive medical care for low-income uninsured residents. To date, over 69,000 individuals have been served at a value of $211 million. 

In 2020, the project expanded to provide referrals to non-medical resources that influence health outcomes for patients. Project Access® staff screen and refer for food security, housing/utilities, transportation, employment, interpersonal safety and health insurance eligibility. With additional funding, childcare will soon be added. 

WCMS is also the home of WIN, the region’s premier professional medical interpreter network, launched in 2005. WIN offers in-person, video and telephonic interpretation in over 12 languages (including American Sign Language) across western North Carolina. Lately, WIN has been a leading partner in addressing vaccine inequities within Latinx communities by bringing events directly into neighborhoods. 

In 2020, WCMS partnered with Dogwood to deliver much-needed PPE to both healthcare providers and community members across the region. WCMS facilitated two installments of PPE, including over 12,000 surgical masks and face shields, over 9,700 gowns, 148,000 KN-95 masks, 5,000 pairs of gloves and 250 IR thermometers. 

“The fact that Dogwood stepped up quickly and donated much-needed PPE during a time when access to and affordability of PPE was very challenging helped us keep not only our providers safe but also community members safe,” says Schwarz. “The donations provided peace of mind during an extremely stressful time.” 

Schwarz also appreciates the work that Dogwood is doing by serving as a convenor for the Vaccine Acceleration Consortium, which brings hospitals, county health departments, health centers and others together to effectively coordinate the supply and use of vaccines. “The work that DHT has been doing in coordinating the vaccine response as a region has improved vaccine equity and maximized the number of shots in arms, which in turn brings our region more vaccine,” says Schwarz.

“The donations provided peace of mind during an extremely stressful time.”

–Miriam Schwarz, CEO, Western Carolina Medical Society

Women wearing masks holding up hand hearts

Area Served: 18 Western North Carolina counties and the Qualla Boundary

Dogwood Partner in: Health & Wellness

Grant Funding: $10,000 plus PPE supplies for regional distribution

Woman wearing mask inside office with a thumbs up.