The Ocala Star Banner
Millions of dollars will soon be available to invest in improving health care in Ocala/Marion County, and there is no shortage of areas in need of a financial shot in the arm.
The Marion County Hospital District trustees on Monday approved a long-term strategic plan, hired a nationally recognized consulting firm that specializes in improving health care delivery and outcomes and moved to create a community Health Alliance of stakeholders in a healthier community.
It is part of a strategy aimed at maximizing the return on the $213 million in cash the district was paid by Community Health Systems as part of a 40-year lease agreement for Munroe Regional Medical Center, which the district owns.
It was a important day for the trustees and the community — maybe only second to the day the board voted to lease Munroe to CHS.
The reason it is so momentous is because of the challenges that lie ahead for the trustees and the community. A Community health Assessment report done for the trustees by the WellFlorida Council shows just how big and diverse Marion county’s health care problems are. Consider:
• 17 percent of Marion Countians, or one in six, have a disability, compared with 13 percent statewide.
• One in five county residents live below the federal poverty line; among children, it is one in three.
• One-fourth of our neighbors below the age of 65 (when Medicare kicks in) have no health care coverage of any kind. Of the nearly 60,000 uninsured, almost 8,000 of them are children.
• A man in Marion County will live two years less (74.3 years) than his average Florida counterpart (76.3 years). For women, the lifespan is 1.3 years shorter.
• In 2013, 28,700 emergency room visits in our community were for purely mental health reasons. The rate of such ER visits is 50 percent higher than the rest of Florida.
• The suicide rate here is about 40 percent higher than the statewide rate.
• Obesity is one of our community’s worst health problems, if not the worst. Obesity rates among both men (30 percent) and women (28 percent) are well above state and national levels.
• Marion County ranks 42nd out of 67 Florida counties in health outcomes.
• The study also found Marion County has larger numbers of smokers, high numbers of people who do not exercise, large populations with no ready access to healthy foods and woefully inadequate mental health services.
That all said, the trustees now know our community’s health needs. The problem is, the needs are massive and costly to address, and it will require changes in behavior by large segments of the community if any investment in programs or services is going to pay off over the long haul.
The Hospital District trustees are being prudent in establishing a formal strategy and bringing professional advisors to get the ball rolling. The kind of windfall the Munroe lease provided is virtually unheard of, so Ocala/Marion County has a rare opportunity to break new ground, to set a new standard in developing innovative and effective community-based health improvement programs.
The trustees have moved cautiously from the start, and do not show any sign of wavering from that approach. That is well and good because they are moving forward and making meaningful progress.
They know what the problems are, and those problems are huge. Thankfully, the community now has ongoing source of revenue to address those problems. Now all that is needed is time, collaboration and buy-in from the community.