By Fred Hiers
Ocala Star Banner
The Marion County Hospital District is ready to start handing out money — $2.5 million, to be exact.
Health organizations that seek a share of the cash have until Dec. 31 to apply.
This is the first round of funding since the district leased Munroe Regional Medical Center to Community Health Systems in April 2014. As part of that deal CHS gave the district $212 million to improve local healthcare.
The district said it would wait at least a year before funding local health initiatives. It wanted time to wind down its own connection to the hospital and to research the community’s needs.
The latter effort included contracting with WellFlorida, Inc., to prepare the 2015 Community Health Needs Assessment. The district also sought counsel from the Institute of Healthcare Improvement and created a new group, the broad-based Marion County Health Alliance.
Now, with input received and analyzed and the alliance structure in place, it’s time for the district to start reviewing proposals from groups capable of meeting the community’s needs. Applications can be found at the district’s website (mchdt.org/trustees/) and must be submitted by Dec. 31.
The district announced these priority areas:
• Obesity prevention
• Smoking and tobacco use cessation
• Diabetes prevention and treatment
• Prevention and stabilization of mental/behavioral health issues which will reduce emergency room visits
• Prevention and treatment of adult dental issues, which will reduce emergency room visits
• Collaborations among healthcare groups to educate Marion County residents about treating and preventing the above mentioned issues.
By now, the district had hoped that the $212 million — which was immediately invested — would have grown. And indeed, until the recent stock market fluctuations, the principal had generated about $7 million. But the latest numbers show a net gain of only $988,571.
“August and September were disastrous,” said Larry Strack, district trustee chairman.
Still, the district is proceeding with the grant process according to plan. “My argument was: We made a commitment to the residents of Marion County to improve health,” Strack said.
The October investment results are not yet available. Strack expects October and the rest of the year to be better and predicts the district will not have to dip into its main investment to fund healthcare grants.
The district could have waited until its investments were performing better, but “the community has its healthcare needs right now,” Strack said.
The 10-page grant application asks applicants to measure the impact of their programs and to describe targeted populations.
Men in Marion County live an average of two years less than all Florida men combined. Women live an average of about 18 months less. Marion County ranked 42nd out of Florida’s 67 counties for poor health in the most recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings, which measure Floridians’ overall health.
In 2013, Marion County emergency rooms had more than 28,700 visits attributed to mental health issues. The resulting rate, calculated by considering population, was more than 50 percent higher than the state rate, according to WellFlorida.
When just patients younger than 18 are concerned, the disparity with the state is even greater. Nearly 1,500 people younger than 18 went to Marion County emergency rooms because of mental health problems in 2013. Also:
• In 2013, Marion County had a suicide rate of 20.9 per 100,000 residents, compared to 15.0 for Florida.
• Nearly 15 percent of Marion County’s adults are diabetic.
• More than one-third of residents are obese.
• Nearly one-third of people live sedentary lifestyles with no regular exercise.
• Median Medicaid enrollment in Marion County, a sign of poverty, is higher than the Florida average.
• There are fewer hospital beds per capita than statewide, and more “food deserts,” as well.
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