Manatee to consider $196K study to create health care plan

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 4, 2014 

MANATEE -- Officials are proposing a yearlong, $196,000 study they say would aid officials in making sensible, realistic decisions about how to improve health care in Manatee County.

The study would provide the basis for a formal health care plan addressing both how to improve the quality of health care for everyone, as well as how to pay for a robust program that includes help for indigents.

The draft agreement calls for the county to pay for the project with a grant of up to $196,000 from its health care fund.

The study and compilation of the plan would be accomplished by a team from the University of South Florida College of Public Health and officials from the nonprofit Manatee Chamber Foundation, according to a document slated for review by the county commission on Tuesday.

USF-Tampa health care experts would research and write an analysis on how to provide the least expensive and most effective care, a copy of the draft agreement states.

Particular emphasis would be given to health care access, especially an effort to halt inappropriate use of expensive

hospital emergency rooms for routine maladies, said Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon.

"It's not an academic exercise, it's boots on the ground in our community," Windon told the Bradenton Herald editorial board last week.

Windon emphasized that the product of the analysis would be an "actionable" plan that would become the foundation of a good health care program.

The study and plan stem in part from a failed proposal to pass a half-cent increase in the county sales tax to pay for health care for the poor.

Voters nixed the ballot measure last year in part because there was no plan in place to spend its proceeds, estimated at $23 million annually, Windon acknowledged.

That thought was seconded by Jonathan Fleece, a Bradenton attorney and a specialist on health care.

"I think it's very important, since I have been involved in the discussions and evolutions of this next phase, that we educate the community that this is not a study, but really a development of a plan for improving health and health care delivery in our county," he said.

"This is in direct response to the voters' reaction to the sales tax referendum; they wanted more details related to the plan," Fleece said.

John Petrila, chair of the USF-Tampa Department of Health Policy and Management, would lead a team researching and formulating a plan, while the foundation would oversee the project and provide guidance.

Petrila's research interests include the impact of health law on population health; disparities in access to health care; and the development and implementation of health policy. He declined comment last week on the proposal.

Should the county commission approve it, the project would take about a year to complete, said Windon.

Money for it would come from the county's health care fund, the successor to a health care trust fund created in 1984 with the $44.3 million in proceeds of the sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital. Most of the interest the fund has earned over the years paid for health care for indigent patients.

In 2002, the balance rose to a high of $61 million, but it has dropped precipitously in recent years. By January 2012, its balance was down to $35.4 million.

By Sept. 30, the balance is expected to have declined to $7,050,949, and next year it is expected to be exhausted, according to Brenda Rogers, the county's director of community services.

The proposal for a formal county health care plan stems from its demise.

The chamber foundation has already approved the document the commission is slated to review, said Jacki Dezelski, executive vice president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and a foundation board member.

"I see its role in many ways like a steering committee, a group from the community to steer the process," Dezelski said of the foundation's part. "The results from this process will truly be a community-based one."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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