Providers discuss Augusta health care needs



A meeting Thursday of health care providers seeking to better serve the indigent and uninsured is likely to have two immediate outcomes: a more complete catalog of health care resources available by telephone, and funding for a coordinator who can seek grants and work on better collaboration.

In the longer term, members of the Greater Augusta Healthcare Network acknowledge, they must tackle some of the region’s bigger social ills in low education and crushing poverty if they are going to improve health.

The group’s overall goal is to get the indigent and uninsured who are seeking non-urgent care in emergency rooms into community clinics and other settings where they can find a medical home.

It is also to help create a better system for serving those patients, said Dr. Lucy Marion, the dean of Georgia Health Sciences University’s College of Nursing and secretary for the health care network.

“We are a platform for change,” she said. For the nursing school, “This is our No. 1 community project.”

Augusta is blessed with a lot of physicians and resources, but patients are not connecting with them because poor relationships with providers and among providers, said Dr. Ketty Gonzalez, the director of the East Central Health District. As a result, Richmond County ranks 104th out of 159 counties, she said.

The network has been tracking non-urgent visits to three ERs by the uninsured, and last year recorded 7,215 visits at a cost of nearly $3 million, Marion said.

“We are interested in reducing those costs and getting better care for our people,” she said.

After a few breakout sessions, the group came up with getting a better catalog of health resources in the community that would be available through the 211 line.

Dr. Chris Parker, the meeting facilitator, said he was impressed by those at the meeting.

“This is public-private collaboration that is going on,” which a lot of communities wish they had, said Parker, the associate project director at Georgia State University’s Georgia Health Policy Center. “What’s probably unique here is the depth of collaboration. You have competing health care systems sitting at the table together. Clearly the issue of the health status of the community is one that is very important to Augusta.”