Ocala Star Banner
By Fred Hiers
The Hospital District trustees are making progress in their effort to address chronic illnesses and other health problems that plague Marion County.
The trustees recently hired a Massachusetts-based nonprofit and tasked it with three jobs: help organize the district’s efforts to determine the best way to address the county’s healthcare problems; help select local groups that need funding to help tackle these problems; and find ways to measure whether the district’s efforts are productive.
The district last week agreed to pay the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) $98,500 for this help, which will be carried out during the next nine months.
The district owns Munroe Regional Medical Center on behalf of the public. The district trustees leased it for 40 years to Community Health Systems. Part of the deal: CHS gave the district $212 million for use in addressing community health needs.
About a year ago, the trustees invested the money and said they would dedicate some of the earned interest to tackle local healthcare needs. But how to identify those problems, and how to select organizations that can best address them?
The institute will help. So is WellFlorida, which surveyed the community at large and the medical community in particular.
Also helpful — trustees hope — will be a Sept. 16 community health forum at the College of Central Florida’s Webber Center. Public and agency attendance is welcome at the two-hour forum, which begins at 5 p.m.
Trustees want to create a Marion County Health Alliance made up of more than 30 local organizations, such as the County Commission, City of Ocala, Marion County Children’s Alliance and Heart of Florida Health Center.
The main speaker on Sept. 16 will be Dr. Melvin Seek, who previously helped the trustees choose Community Health Systems as the new leasee of Munroe.
Seek cites some key statistics. Men in Marion County live an average of two years less than Florida men in general. 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 measures the overall health of Florida residents.
Ed Dean is a consultant for the trustees and encouraged them to hire the institute and create the health alliance. The trustees will still maintain their independence and control the money. The district has generated about $7 million this far from its investments.
“It’s not a change of course. It’s part of the need for a broad coalition … of every community segment working together,” Dean said. “If we are to significantly improve health outcomes…healthcare providers cannot do it alone.”
The district’s goal is to have local healthcare organizations apply for money to address local healthcare needs by the end of the year. An application process has yet to be worked out.
WellFlorida last month reported to the trustees on some of the most pressing healthcare issues. The organization will provide the trustees with comprehensive recommendations before the September meeting.
Although many county healthcare organizations have worked to address county health problems, Dean said, the county has never focused its full resources on the issue.
“We’ve never aligned ourselves around health as a total community effort,” he said.
Dean also said hiring the institute was necessary, considering the need to help organize the health alliance.
“They understand that without an overarching strategy and collaboration…you cannot make progress.” Dean said. “IHI has a broad breadth of experience working with communities putting together collaborations that work.”
Reach Fred Hiers at email@example.com and 352-867-4157.
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