The Commonwealth Fund released its report today on communities across the country, and Augusta and the Southeast in general fared poorly. In fact, of 306 communities rated, Augusta ranked 285th in terms of healthy life measures.
The group looked at 43 measures for health referral areas – health care regions that attract patients from surrounding areas for more complicated and specialized care. Augusta did not rate in the top 10 percent on any of the measures and rated in the
bottom 10 percent on six.
In fact, in order to reach the top 1 percent in some measures, the Augusta area would need:
• 61,825 more adults covered by health insurance
• 9,594 more children under age 17 with health insurance
• 52,431 more adults with access to care when they need it
• 17,298 more adults with preventive care, such as mammograms or colon cancer screenings
• 1,908 fewer hospitalizations for Medicare patients with chronic conditions that could be managed outside a hospital, which would save $14.7 million.
It all begins with access to care, said David Radley, the lead author of the report.
“People who can access care are more likely to receive effective care when they need it,” he said. “(Communities) that do well on access also tend to do well on prevention and treatment.”
The areas that did poorly on those measures also had the worst outcomes in terms of healthy lives.
For instance, Augusta’s rate of preventable deaths per 100,000 was 144.6, more than double the rate of the top 10 percent performers at 71.6 and well above the national average of 91.3.
It is no coincidence that the worst performers were also areas that tended to have higher rates of poverty, said Cathy Schoen, the senior vice president for policy, research and evaluation at the Commonwealth Fund. Areas with higher poverty have other health risk factors, such as lack of access to fresh food or a grocery store, and might lack resources from the health care systems around them.
Some cities have already taken the challenge to begin looking at the broader picture, Schoen said.
“I think there can be a synergy if communities start to ask what are our pressing population health issues, where can a health system make a real difference and where is an opportunity to be in partnership with broader community health initiatives,” she said.
That was the idea behind the Greater Augusta Healthcare Network, which brought together the hospitals and health department along with a broader network of community leaders, said Dr. Lucy Marion, the dean of Georgia Health Sciences University College of Nursing, who helped get the group started by applying for an initial grant to support it.
The group is backing the use of federally qualified health centers, clinics that get extra funding to provide low-income primary care in the community.
Belle Terrace Health & Wellness Center is one that the nursing school is trying to help and the group backed the application for Christ Community Health Services, Marion said.
“We want to build the capacity and build the quality” of that care, she said.