Southern Rural Access Program: Mary Curtis and Sally Harrison

Dates of Project: July 1997 to August 2009

Field of Work: Increasing access to health care in rural, underserved areas of eight Southern states.

Synopsis of the Work: The Southern Rural Access Program was a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that worked to increase access to health care in rural, underserved areas of eight southern states. The states recruited and retained rural primary care providers, offered programs to attract students committed to working in rural areas to the health professions and help prepare them for training programs, developed collaborative networks of rural health providers, and developed loan funds to help rural health providers improve their practices. Mississippi was one of the participating states.

Story Told: In 2000, Mary Curtis became the administrator of a community hospital in Prentiss, Miss., and discovered a disorganized billing system that led to reimbursement denials and undercharging. Through the Southern Rural Access Program, the Mississippi Hospital Association, which worked with 39 hospitals in the state during the program, hired Sally Harrison, to help fix these problems.

A registered nurse experienced in the business side of health care, Harrison spent almost two months improving the billing system. As a result of her work, the hospital's charges increased from $9 million to $11 million a year initially and eventually went up to $14 million, says Curtis, adding, "That's the bottom line." Read her story in this sidebar.