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Three-county group forms to exam area's healthcare

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POSTED: May 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Joe Parker Jr. / Coastal Courier/

Consultant Rita Salain listens to a point during a day-long meeting Wednesday when leaders of Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties planned for future health grants.

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Health workers and other leaders from three counties toiled all day at Coastal EMC to improve the chances that Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties will share in $9.2 million in health care funding expected in the next two years.
Deirdre Michelson, Liberty's health department chief, told the group, "This represents an opportunity that has never happened here before, and has happened very few times any where."
The Three Rings Healthcare Coalition is one of six health groups in Georgia that received a $20,000 planning grant to allow it to compete for a portion of the $9.2 million. The other five recipients were hospitals.
Innovation and regionalism will be major factors in deciding which agencies share the $9.2 million.
Rita Salain, a healthcare consultant who has worked for Liberty County for several years, said the three-county area has a disproportionately poor population. "This means you have to have a good relationship with DFCS," (Department of Family and Children Service.) "It doesn't matter what kind of health care you have, if the right things aren't happening at DFCS, it won't do you any good."
Salain said the best available figures show that of each $8 paid for health care in Liberty County, half went to providers outside the county. Part of this, she said, was normal because it indicated people using specialized services not available in Liberty.
It also shows, however, local consumers "bypassing" hometown medical care for that available in nearby communities. This point is also mentioned in a recently completed study done for Liberty Regional Medical Center by the Fanning Institute of the University of Georgia.
Salain suggested Wednesday having citizens involved in the recruitment of health care personnel, "like y'all did when you were getting Target to locate here."
Russ Toal, consultant to many health care agencies, reminded the three-county group that "the strategy will have to be broad" to compete successfully. Phyllis Isley, a healthcare economist at Georgia Southern University who holds an academic doctorate, said, "We are going to have to think regionally."
Isley said health care should be thought of as a commodity: it is produced, it is consumed, it is mobile and in many ways it is subject to market forces.
"Health care choices are usually made by the consumer, and they are often the people with the least information.
"We economists want ways to improve inefficient markets," she said. "We have to think of these three counties as one market area."
 

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