2009-07-30 / Front Page

FCMC Forms Community Engagement Committee

NACo grant will provide technical assistance to study local healthcare
By Jean Snyder STAFF WRITER

Fulton County Medical Center (FCMC), its administrative staff, board and physicians, assisted by community leaders took the first step last week in evaluating the community's healthcare system and learning more about how it affects the local economy. One of the group's future steps will involve a cross-section of the community in a telephone survey to solicit citizens' opinions on healthcare in the county and surrounding areas.

Funded by a National Association of Counties (NACo) grant, technical assistance will be provided to the community engagement group by NACo and the Oklahoma Center for Rural Health at the Oklahoma State University.

FCMC's nearly 30-member community engagement group met for the first of four meetings last week to begin the process of examining just how rural healthcare impacts economy with a goal of strengthening that economy through increasing use of local healthcare resources.

The study, only one of several grant projects currently funded in the country, comes at a critical time when unemployment is at 15 percent in Fulton County and also comes on the heels of the opening of a new hospital and construction already under way for a physicians' services annex to the hospital. Combined with the current national debate on healthcare costs, the information taken away from the process will, hopefully, provide FCMC a perspective on how the hospital can better serve as an economic engine for the area while providing quality services to its citizens.

Last week's meeting was led by Gerald A. Doekson, extension economist at Oklahoma State University (which is home to the National Center for Rural Health Works) and by Val Schott, director of the center. Doekson told team members that during the course of the evaluation process, the grant will provide their technical assistance to: Identify health care needs; examine the social, economic, and political realities affecting the local delivery of healthcare; determine how the healthcare system can best meet the community's needs; and develop an action plan based on the community's analysis of the data.

He also said at the conclusion of the project, FCMC and the community engagement team will have received four separate reports including: An economic impact report describing economic activity both in terms of dollars produced and jobs produced for the local economy; a directory of health and human services provided in the local service area; a survey of the health services utilization patterns of the community and the reasons for those patterns; and a compilation of secondary data regarding the community.

Both Doekson and Schott also presented the first report on economic impact representing preliminary work that had been done on the project. The 20-page report discusses national health trends in healthcare; provides a review of county demographic and economic data, summarizing the direct economic benefits of health services and their economic impact on Fulton County's economy.

The report points out that nationwide, the healthcare sector is one of the fastest growing in the United States. In Fulton County, FCMC is the second largest employer in the county with nearly 400 employees. Nationally, healthcare services have grown from 7.2 percent of the gross national product in 1970 to 16.2 percent in 2007. During the same period, per capita health expenditures increased from $356 to $7,421 and employment in the healthcare industry increased 324 percent over the same 37-year period.

The economic impact report also showed that while Fulton County's employment overall has decreased 5.1 percent since 1998, healthcare employment has actually increased by 10.4 percent. The report estimates the total income generated by health services in Fulton County at nearly $25 million with 586 jobs provided at FCMC, by other health professionals and by other health and medical services such as assisted living, hospice, pharmacies, etc.

The community engagement committee consists of elected officials, hospital staff, board members, physicians, local human services agencies, community citizens and consumers, and business leaders.

Doekson and Schott praised FCMC CEO Jason Hawkins for being open to allowing the Rural Health Center and the community to critique his organization. Hawkins responded by thanking the engagement team for their time and for being part of what he called a very worthwhile process both for FCMC and the community.

The team will meet again in September to assist in the development of the 15-20 minute telephone survey that will be conducted as a next step. The survey will collect responses from at least 200 households to use in the study and citizens are asked to please participate if called. More details on the survey process will be made available after the September meeting. Meetings will also be held in October and November.

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