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Military, public, private health alliance promoted
Study urgers recruiting more care professionals
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Health-care stakeholders from the public and private sectors met Wednesday to further analyze the results of a strategic health-plan study commissioned by the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership.
The $75,000 study conducted by PDA Health Planning Management Services recommends establishing a leadership constituency that represents military and civilian interests as the area plans for long-term access and quality care development.
Office of Economic Adjustment project manager Amber Levofsky led the discussion, which included input from Winn Army Community Hospital Commander Col. Ronald J. Place, Liberty Regional Medical Center CEO Scott Kroell, Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission director Sonny Timmerman, Diversity Health Center CEO Vicki Smith and Health Resources and Services Administration Regional Administrator Lisa Mariani.
During discussions, two core issues of concern emerged: behavioral health care and physician recruitment for both LRMC and Winn ACH.
Timmerman mentioned that technology and population changes also influence health care, but ebb and flow at a rate that is hard to maintain.
“What we know today, behavioral health’s an issue; in two years, it may not be,” Timmerman said. “It may be something else because the military may have changed.”
Physician recruitment is presented in the PDA study: “The civilian system struggles to recruit and retain physicians and mid-level medical professionals, in large part because of the rural nature of the four counties and the absence of training programs in the four counties. … Recruiting professionals requires incentives, such as monetary payments or professional-development opportunities.”
Concurrently, the military system may lose staff to deployments and duty-station changes, which can result in a temporary influx of TRICARE beneficiaries using the civilian system.
“To provide locally all of the health care needed in 2010, the four counties would need at least 81 more health-care professionals,” the study said. “To serve the expected population in 2030, the area will need 187 more medical, behavioral-health and dental professionals.”
To increase access to care, the study suggests “formation of a sustaining locally based health-care alliance among the leaders of the military, VHA and civilian sectors to provide direction, collaboration and continuity for resolving care requirements that occur as a result of the changing nature of the military, cycles of economic conditions and political change.”
It cites Fort Sill, Okla., as a working model of collaboration.
But because the issue and organizations involved are so broad, more analysis is needed before the group can advance.
Levofsky suggested that the group enlist the help of a graduate student studying health policy at either Armstrong Atlantic State University or Georgia Southern University to focus on the issue.
Still to be determined is which entity would guide and oversee the work and the exact objectives of such a study. Further down the road, alliance governance would need to be ironed out as well.
Those in the discussion considered either leaving that to the group’s current participants or reinvigorating the Liberty County Health Planning Committee, which has lost steam in recent months, according to Kroell and Smith.  
Timmerman said he will report back to the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership board during its Dec. 19 meeting, and the voting members must decide how to move forward.   
“In the end, those elected leaders are the ones who are going to have to make that commitment,” Timmerman said.

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