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When consultants for WellFlorida recently assessed the health of Marion County, what they found was disturbing. By almost every measure — from obesity and smoking rates to access to nutritional food and life expectancy — our community ranked below, in some cases well below, the state average. In short, the overall health of Marion County residents is in critical condition.
Good news. Our community not only has a chance to deliver some immediate help and hope but also to change the entire culture surrounding its health and health care.
The Community Health Assessment conducted by WellFlorida was commissioned by the Marion County Hospital District Board of Trustees. The trustees own Munroe Regional Medical Center and last year received a $213 million pot of cash from Community Health Systems Inc. as part of 40-year hospital lease deal with the health care giant.
Now the trustees’ job is to use that money — more precisely, the interest earnings from it — to improve the health of Marion Countians. With a projected $8 million in interest income anticipated this year alone, it can accomplish a lot — if it has a meaningful and effective plan.
The trustees have a plan. With the advice of its consultant, former sheriff Ed Dean, and district Executive Director Jon Kurtz, as well as longtime local physician Dr. Mel Seek, it is creating a county Health Alliance. The Alliance will consist of more than 50 health care providers and community service agencies — everything from the hospitals to The Centers to dozens of smaller, hands-on organizations.
The idea is simple: Find out the ways to get the best bang for our buck, what will really have the greatest long-term effect on the health of our community.
It’s a wise strategy. What better way to identify the exact needs and the most efficient and effective ways to implement programs than through the collaboration of those who are on the front lines of caring for our community.
We have seen a similar undertaking here with the Marion County Children’s Alliance. In the past decade and a half that consortium of children’s services agencies has had a significant impact on Marion County’s needy and neglected children — and it does not have the benefit of a millions in income annually.
The trustees also have hired the nationally recognized Institute for Healthcare Improvement for guidance. IHI’s No. 1 objective is direct: improve the health of our citizens.
Marion County already has a wealth of health care know-how and resources. Now it is blessed to have a recurring and enviable source of dedicated funding. Through the knowledge, input and cooperation of the dozens of community agencies and organizations dedicated to helping and healing, more and more of those with health-related problems — and the numbers are shocking — can get the nutrition, the education, the medication, indeed the primary health care they need to live healthier, longer lives.
It will take years, probably a generation or more to change the culture. But we have to start somewhere. Not doing so is not an option.
We like that the trustees are seeking advice from professionals and those on the front lines to ensure the windfall that the citizens of Marion County reaped from the lease of Munroe is used to improve Marion County’s collective health and, in the end, make this not only a healthier but happier and more prosperous community in which to live and work.