Task Force Offers Pilot Health Care Program

February 27, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Kent County Task Force on Health Care for People of Color has proposed a seven-step approach to remove barriers to medical treatment for minorities. In turn, the Kent County Board of Commissioners will soon be asked to commit $500,000 to a three-year pilot program suggested by the task force.Commission Chairman Steven Heacock told the Business Journal that he felt confident the county would appropriate the money for the program, and that he was pleased with the results the task force presented.

"I was delighted with the report. I think that Bev Drake, Brad Mathis and the rest of the group did a great job of putting in front of us something that will make a difference in helping, yet is doable," he said.

"My fear was that we would try to solve the whole problem immediately and push forward an agenda that wouldn't be achievable. I think they've put forward something that we can do, and I'm going to push real hard to get it done very soon."

Mary Swanson, Kent County health and human services coordinator, also was impressed with the work of the 46-member task force. She said the group not only presented a plausible long-term remedy to erase access barriers, but also came up with a short-term prescription to measure the program's progress.

"Ultimately we do want to be able to track and have impact on long-term health outcomes," she said. "But in the short term, it would be good to be able to show that there has been some progress, some specific projects implemented that have reduced barriers to access. I think that will be very good in that we can show some short-term gains in increasing access, and increasing access will improve health outcomes."

Almost half of the requested money, $242,000, would be used to hire a public health supervisor to direct the effort and a clerk typist. Another $30,000 would go towards a transportation resource directory to help minorities get to the physician or clinic; $95,000 would be spent on cultural sensitivity training for medical personnel; and $51,500 would be used to educate the general public.

Any remaining funds would go to primary health care information and referrals, medical coverage for poor people and new program implementation. The money would be spent over three years.

Of the seven suggestions offered, Swanson felt the primary one was to coordinate efforts between public and private providers to make medical data collection and management more efficient, improve medical coverage, share donated pharmaceuticals and create a technology link between the health department and primary care clinics.

"I see that clinic coordination as a piece that will have some impact," said Swanson.

Swanson felt another major piece was to train medical personnel in the nuances of cultural differences and tie that effort to similar programs already underway, such as the chamber's Institute for Healing Racism.

"They have a medical way of speaking and use different terms. If we could talk to them in their language and help them understand how to communicate more effectively with the minority population, I think that would be a good thing, too," she said.

The next step is to ask county commissioners for the funds to implement the pilot program. Swanson said that request likely would be made next month.

Heacock came up with the idea for the task force two years ago and featured it in his State of the County address last year. The chairman will present this year's address on Thursday at the county commission meeting.

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