Health summit urges education, collaboration - November 22, 2013

Courtesy of the Times

One year after the health of region residents was diagnosed as bad and getting worse, the One Region initiative has made a start to finding the cure.

More than 150 community leaders convened Friday at a One Region health summit at Avalon Manor to discuss why the region lags in so many health indicators and how those can be improved.

“It can be done, it will be done, and it starts here today,” said state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, at the beginning of the day’s proceedings.

Friday’s morning-long discussion conducted under the motto It is All Connected featured small groups at tables discussing problems, causes and priorities for action. They then ranked those using keypad polling.

The discussion throughout the morning, and the results of the keypad polling projected on a big screen, revolved around themes of education, access to health care and personal responsibility.

The specific policy item drawing the most enthusiasm was generated by a call from some participants to push Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly to get behind Medicaid expansion as provided for in the Affordable Care Act. Indiana remains among 25 states that have not accepted Medicaid expansion.

Dr. Alexander Stemer, president of Franciscan Medical Specialists, drew applause when he summarized his discussion group’s conclusions on the top challenges facing Northwest Indiana in the health care sector.

“You may have transportation to health care,” Stemer said. “You may have family that tells you you need it. You many know you need it. But it doesn’t matter if you can’t get it.”

In the polling following, accessibility to health care emerged as the No. 2 challenge for health care in the region. Advocating for Medicaid expansion ranked third when it came to efforts One Region’s Health Advisory Council should focus on to improve health in Northwest Indiana by 2016.

Ranking first in the list of efforts to focus on to improve health was creating comprehensive community partnerships for health education and ranking second was communication and collaboration between health providers. Ranking first among challenges facing Northwest Indiana was educating the public about positive choices regarding diet, exercise and other health factors.

Friday’s health summit was the first convened based on the results of last year’s 2012 Quality of Life Indicator’s report, which evaluated the area’s performance on 10 indicators ranging from economy and transportation to culture and health. Only health and transportation were found to actually be in decline, rather than steady or improving.

That report identified the need for a regional strategy on health care in the region, which led to the summit, according to One Region Executive Director Dennis Rittenmeyer. One Region hopes Friday’s summit can be a model for summits in the future for the other nine indicators examined last year.

One Region was founded in 2008 by former Times Media Co. Publisher Bill Masterson Jr. and now has 16 action initiatives. Current chairs are Times Media Co. Publisher Chris White and William Lowe, Indiana University Northwest chancellor.