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VOL. 127 | NO. 32 | Thursday, February 16, 2012

Improving Public Health Goal of New Initiative

By Aisling Maki

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Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell this week announced the launch of a new broad-based health care project designed to improve public health and reduce health care costs for county residents.

Healthy Shelby will be coordinated by Luttrell, along with his Public Health Policy adviser, Dr. Kenneth Robinson, former Tennessee commissioner of health.

“My role in this is as a facilitator,” Luttrell said. “I look across the horizon and I see holes in our health care delivery system. Now I’m in the process of pulling in advisers who can better define what the holes are and how we can fill them.”

Healthy Memphis Common Table, a nonprofit, regional health care network of more than 200 community health organizations, will administer the project, and a Healthy Memphis Common Table employee will serve as director.

“They have a track record of working across platforms, with the business community, insurers, multiple hospitals, and over 200 community-based organizations that are stakeholders in health,” Robinson said. “Building upon their work will allow the (Healthy Memphis) Common Table to be an honest broker, a neutral party. They’re the logical intermediary for this kind of cross-sector, whole-community health improvement collaborative.”

Healthy Shelby’s three main goals are to better manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, improve birth outcomes and reduce infant mortality, and better coordinate care for terminal patients.

“This is a community that’s rich in premier medical facilities, yet we’re still spiking in some public health areas.”

–Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell


As mayor, Luttrell has made public health one of his top priorities, and while concerns about chronic disease management and high rates of infant mortality in the county are frequently voiced, he said he hadn’t considered end-of-life care a top priority until the issue was raised by Healthy Shelby’s community partners.

In the U.S., the bulk of an individual’s lifetime health care costs are spent on end-of-life care, and with an aging population, those costs carry a formidable financial burden for many families.

Healthy Shelby partners are analyzing ways to streamline and improve care while reducing unnecessary costs.

“We need to take a hard look at how we can make the end-of-life period comfortable, provide the proper medical care, and do it in the most cost-efficient way possible,” Luttrell said.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., Saint Francis Hospital-Memphis, The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, The Church Health Center and other community agencies will all be part of the Healthy Shelby alliance.

“This is a community that’s rich in premier medical facilities, yet we’re still spiking in some public health areas,” Luttrell said. “How can you have so much disconnection between this wealth of medical facilities and such poor public health? I think everyone recognized it, we just didn’t know how to tackle it. The partners we’ve been able to bring to the table are pretty excited about it because they all agree that we need to tackle these things; we just didn’t have the vehicle to do it. Now we have the vehicle.”

Luttrell said the exact details of how Healthy Shelby will implement its strategies remain to be seen, given the national climate of uncertainty surrounding the future of the U.S. health care system and an upcoming presidential election that could impact policies.

But the alliance’s overarching strategy is to work in concert to target specific illnesses, standardizing approaches to care at all cooperating local health and social services agencies.

“The intention is literally to come together, align our resources and collaborate on specific actions,” Robinson said. “The unique element of this is to develop a common set of approaches, which we feel will create a system transformation in terms of how, when and where we provide services to persons in Shelby County. It will both keep people healthier, preventing the need for health care, and alter how patients interface with the health care delivery system to improve their quality of care, thereby reducing per capita cost of care.”

The Healthy Shelby project is part of Memphis Fast Forward, an ongoing alliance of businesses and community agencies linked to the Greater Memphis Chamber.

“The involvement of the business community and the visibility that gives to this initiative will allow this agenda to be promoted and supported with some sustainability,” Robinson said.

Robinson, who’s also the longtime pastor at St. Andrew AME Church in South Memphis, emphasized the importance of involving local churches in Healthy Shelby.

“In Memphis, we have an extraordinary asset in the organized faith community that has been focused on health and health care for many years,” he said. “That’s a key partner in taking health out of the hospital and into the community, where lifestyles and personal decisions all begin.”

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