This Committee's "Story" continues to evolve. Through a year of community work, this committee has identified barriers to prosperity, created recommendations to address these barriers, and submitted their recommendations to the PPA Steering Committee. The committee will continue its work as the final recommendations and strategy for implementation are developed.
The Health recommendations seem to emphasize that our current healthcare infrastructure is not set up to efficiently address and manage the healthcare needs of our citizens.
- Athens is experiencing a growing demand for healthcare services, and, at the same time, the number of uninsured persons continues to increase. Much of the demand from the uninsured is being handled by the emergency rooms and paid for by taxpayers and increasing medical costs. St. Mary's and Athens Regional spent $47 million in indigent care last year. The free clinics in town are no longer accepting new patients because they are over capacity. The recent closure of Elberton's obstetrics center points to the ever increasing demand on Athens' services.
- Athens has a growing Hispanic population in need of care. There is a lack of translation services and a need to create culturally accessible medical care.
- Continued reductions in payment rates by Medicare, Medicaid, and health insurance, combined with increasing operating costs, are reducing the ability of people with insurance to access healthcare. The under-insured cannot find services they need and free clinics will not take anyone with insurance.
- We have a growing population in need of chronic care. Preventable chronic conditions further strain our health care system as well as our economy. Blindness resulting from untreated diabetes contributes to a loss in the workforce.
- Accessing affordable specialty care -- dental, mental health, pharmacy, and physical/occupational therapy -- is difficult in Athens.
- And, funding and collaboration amongst providers is lacking.
The recommendations of the Health Committee focus on the importance of the hospitals, health clinics, doctors, pharmacists, Medicaid providers, employers, and healthcare policy makers to develop a comprehensive health care plan that seeks to address preventive and chronic healthcare issues in our community, rather than implementing strategies that encourage fragmented services and high cost late-stage care for serious health conditions that perhaps could have been prevented or addressed at an earlier stage. One Stop Health Care Centers, a local health insurance plan, and a specialty-care referral network may be part of the solution.
Through these recommendations the community also focuses on the importance of proactively addressing the teen pregnancy issue. Despite some progress, teen pregnancy is a serious health issue that not only impacts the young mothers and children, but also encourages the continuation of poverty. The committee recognizes that new strategies in the areas of sex education as well as building self-esteem and academics are critical.
Accessible Healthcare is also of great concern to the committee. Nurses in schools, transportation to healthcare, and culturally competent services, including services in Spanish, are required. One thing is clear- creating a comprehensive strategy to provide affordable health care to the un- and under-insured is critical not only to the future health of our citizens, but also to the health of Athens' economy.