In search of health solutions

December 10, 2015




Editorial by the Ocala Star Banner

Where to start? That could easily have been the question when the Marion County Hospital District board voted last month to spend $2.5 million on grants aimed at improving the health of county residents. There certainly were plenty of options.

The money is the first to be spent from the $213 million the district received for leasing Munroe Regional Medical Center to Community Health Systems for the next 40 years. The money must be spent on improving the health and well-being of Marion County residents.

To help guide its decision the hospital district board hired the WellFlorida Council to conduct a Community Health Assessment — that is, measure the various health conditions and outcomes in the community. The results were eye-opening.

Among the most pressing health challenges in our community, as identified by the trustees, are:

— Obesity. About 31 percent of males and 28 percent of females in Marion County are obese. Among children, the number is a staggering 40 percent. In a community survey of citizens, business people and physicians, all three groups ranked obesity as the community’s No. 1 health problem.

— Smoking. One in four Marion Countians smoke cigarettes, compared with 19 percent statewide and 18 percent nationally.

— Diabetes. This is one of the six top causes of death in Marion County.

— Mental health, WellFlorida found in 2013 that 28,704 people turned to Marion County hospital emergency rooms for treatment for mental health issues.

— Dental care: Emergency rooms also were the first resort for 3,775 people in 2010, at a cost of $2.4 million. The survey also found that 40 percent of Marion County adults, about 104,000 people, had not had a “recent” dental checkup.

While these issues only begin to address the health care challenges facing Marion County — it ranked 42nd out of 67 Florida counties for overall health this year — the trustees’ choices of priorities was prudent. Certainly obesity, smoking, mental health care and dental care are easy and necessary targets.

Make no mistake, these are not easily resolved issues. To begin with, Marion County has fewer doctors and dentists per capita than the rest of the state. On top of that, more than 57,000 people in our community have no health care coverage of any kind, including almost 8,000 children. And, because our county is so big geographically, access and transportation are often major roadblocks to getting help to those who need it.

Hospital trustees are seeking applications from community-based health and human services groups that believe they can address these issues. We are certain none of the listed health priorities can be solved quickly, but it is comforting to know our community has not only the money, but a strategic plan and the health assessment with which attack these problem that contribute to shorter lifespans for both men and women in Marion County compared with the rest of the nation.

This is the first round of grants being issued by the hospital district, and that will bring fresh scrutiny from the community. The hospital district board made sound choices in what health problems to begin tackling. But remember, it is just a start.

Read this article online.

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