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You can still help reshape area healthcare
Health advice
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You can still help reshape area healthcare
By Linda Ratcliffe
Feb. 25, 2008

We can send people to the moon, clone animals and isolate tiny genes, but we can't seem to work out a system where people can access and cover the expenses of healthcare if they need it.
It is amazing how few residents even know what is available locally. Even more astonishing is the belief that healthcare services are better in larger communities. Are you less professional or is your work product substandard just because your home is in a smaller city? Of course not.
It's no secret the healthcare industry is experiencing huge difficulties with increasing demands for quality services, shrinking healthcare dollars, increasing numbers of underinsured and uninsured and a shortage of available and affordable health providers. This is true for the United States, but it is especially a problem for Georgians. Our population has many indicators that shout for healthcare and preventive health options. We have higher mortality rates for cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, to name only a few. We are fatter, get less exercise, still have high rates of people using tobacco and have higher percentages of people who are uninsured.
Now for the alarming part: People in our county have even higher rates than Georgia's for the number of uninsured and residents living below the poverty level! Their mortality rates are much higher in the diseases mentioned above and we're certainly not known for our healthy life styles.
In an effort to stimulate thinking and to address local needs from health risks to professional shortages, the state Office of Rural Health (under the Georgia Department of Community Health) created the Rural Health Safety Net Grant Program. These funds are "facilitate the economic development and the creation of sustainable non-traditional, regional health care delivery systems that are financially viable and designated to meet the needs of the citizens within the regions."
The Liberty County Health Planning Board applied for and received one of six state grants for the region of Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties. Our first directive is to create a consortium of leaders and residents from these counties, the Three Ring Healthcare Consortium was established and our mission became:
"The mission of the Three Ring Healthcare Consortium is to create a regional system that provides high quality, accessible primary health care, selected specialty services and behavioral health with a focus on preventive health education and appropriate wellness services and to do so while ensuring integrity, accountability, professionalism and regional networking."
For the past three weeks, multiple assessment, interview and forums have taken place within the region. We've asked people to speak up, address concerns and suggest ways to improve healthcare. The turnout in all three counties was not as well as we expected. Did residents not understand that they have a voice and that we wanted to hear their opinions and perceptions?
The people who came were fantastic and shared excellent information, offering concerns and advice. So as we gather data and summaries from the meetings, they will be the voice for all county populations while others with something to say missed a wonderful opportunity.
In addition to consultants creating financial models, gathering demographics and surveying existing healthcare resources, consortium members are analyzing problems such as transportation and physician shortages. With these materials in hand, the consortium will deliberate and create a business plan for a regional healthcare system that is sustainable and economically feasible. We will devise evaluation tools, conduct economic impact studies and format a proposal to submit to the Office of Rural Health in August. The consortium is determined to make a difference.
If you believe you have something to offer or if you wish more information or to share an idea or concern, please contact me at 876-2173, ext. 236, or call you local Health Department nurse manager; Annie Washington in Liberty County at  912-876-2173 or Kathy Rowell in Long County at 912-545-2107.
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