JACKSON — To drive down the costs of health care and reduce the use of emergency departments, several hospitals have joined to form a new health care initiative, The Hinds County Health Alliance (HCHA).
Funding by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has made Hinds County one of just 12 locations in the nation to pilot this project. The project is expected to become a nationwide effort to provide health coverage to the uninsured and underinsured.
Baptist Health Systems, St. Dominic, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Central Mississippi Medical Center have agreed to refer patients to one of the five outpatient provider sites. Those provider sites include the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center, Central Mississippi Health Services, Unacare and the Jackson Medical Mall Clinics. The Jackson Medical Society, a group of physicians who have traditionally cared for the under-served, have also agreed to partner in this effort.
Aaron Shirley, M.D., who is chairman of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation, has been the visionary and the prime mover in seeing this initiative occur, said Jim Malloy, MPH, who is the project director for the HCHA. Shirley, who could not be reached for comment, serves as executive director of the new alliance.
Most people who are uninsured are categorized as the “working poor,” according to Malloy, or those people whose employers do not provide them with health insurance. Although Medicare, Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program are available for those who meet certain criteria, Malloy said it is the “in-between age group we feel needs special attention.”
The kinds of services the HCHA will provide include an integrative referral system to coordinate efforts with other major health care providers in the county. The HCHA will also coordinate its health care network with United Way, so that all the social services provided by United Way are linked to what the HCHA provides.
“The good thing is that we’re redirecting a lot of routine care patients and linking them appropriately to primary care providers,” said Malloy. “We’re fortunate to be funded by both the Federal Human Resources and Services Administration of the federal government, and by Robert Wood Johnson. What we’re working toward is a public-private partnership to deal with the problems of the uninsured and the underinsured.”
“We have the support of the governor’s office, the division of Medicaid, the Attorney General, the Health Department and the Insurance Department,” Malloy said. “All the elements of state government we have to deal with are engaged in assisting us.”
In addition, the City of Jackson and the Hinds County Board of Supervisors are assisting the HCHA.
Since referrals from hospitals to the five outpatient provider sites began in September, Malloy said there has been good progress. The HCHA has helped decrease the number of people who go to emergency rooms in the area. Three of the five outpatient providers also provide a drug discount program.
“Those 15% to 20% of the uninsured population oftentime consume 75% or 80% of the medical services being provided to the community,” Malloy said. “It’s in our interest that these patients with these special conditions that consume a great deal of resources get cared for early in their disease process.”
Malloy said area hospitals provide more than $50 million a year in what is referred to as “uncompensated care.” HCHA is focused on prevention, health promotion and is centered on early intervention.
“Our objective is to work with the hospitals so people get the right care at the right place for the right price,” Malloy said. “That’s basically what we’re about.”
Jasmin Rena Chapman, M.D., at the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center (JHCHC), said the JHCHC has been providing services to the uninsured and underinsured for 32 years. The JHCHC has more than 100,000 visits per year, with 32,000 unduplicated uses.
HCHA, she said, will bring everything together and help coordinate the different services.
“We are probably the most effective group to treat the uninsured and underinsured,” Chapman said. “HCHA has made a commitment that we will take care of the uninsured and the working poor.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org.