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Consultants Find Room for Improvement in Marin’s Health Care

July 12, 2008

By Rob Rogers, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

Jul. 12–Marin’s health care network will continue providing adequate coverage for residents for the next 20 years, even if Marin General Hospital closes its doors, a county consultant says.

But Marin’s doctors and leaders should do more to improve efficiency and prevent long-term illness and injuries, according to the latest report by the Abaris Group, a consultant hired by the county to assess Marin’s health needs.

“We have guarded optimism that Marin General will have a successful journey to the future and we are very committed to that,” said Larry Meredith, director of the county Department of Health and Human Services. “But just because we’re in relatively good shape doesn’t mean we’re in good shape. We want to drive down the use of expensive acute care environments and look at home care and community alternatives that by and large are associated with an improved quality of life.

“That’s not to say we don’t need institutions,” Meredith said. “But we want them to be the alternative of last resort.”

The consultant will host a series of meetings throughout Marin next week to discuss its latest report on the county’s “health care safety net,” which it released Thursday. Abaris released a preliminary version of the report in February, and is currently preparing a final version.

The report “helps make sure we have a good understanding of and further informs our planning for the future of health care, helping us to deal with issues like

the future of Marin General Hospital,” said County Administrator Matthew Hymel.

The consultant defines the “safety net” as that part of the county’s health network which cares for under-insured or uninsured residents. Those residents make up as much as 38.7 percent of Marin’s population, according to the report — and that number is expected to increase as the county’s population ages.

About 67 percent of patients covered by the “safety net” were treated at Marin General Hospital in 2006, according to the consultant’s February report. The closure of Marin General Hospital would cost the county 235 beds, a significant number even if other hospitals — such as Novato Community — expands, the report says.

“When we started the report, there was no transition plan in place between the health department and Sutter Health,” said Mike Williams, principal consultant for the Abaris Group. “Most of our preliminary recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, such as extending the lease (for Marin General) were agreed to. But we don’t have recommendations about hospital services expanding for the network.”

Under-insured and uninsured residents will be among the primary clientele of the new, $60 million Marin Health and Wellness Campus, scheduled to open in the fall.

Residents receiving employer-based insurance will fall by 34.6 percent and those dependent on Medicare will rise, the report predicts. By 2025, Medicare will cover one quarter of Marin’s residents, the report says.

The report recommends efforts to prevent chronic diseases and accidents, such as heart disease and falls; finding better ways to serve frequent users of emergency services; creating better links between clinics and hospital emergency departments; and expanding surgery options for under-insured and uninsured residents.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com

The Abaris Group will host a discussion of its report on the county’s health care at the following times and locations:

10 a.m. Monday at the Hill Community Room, 1560 Hill Road in Novato; 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Marguerita C. Johnson Senior Center, 640 Drake Ave. in Marin City; 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Pickleweed Park Multipurpose Room, 50 Canal St. in San Rafael; 6 p.m. Wednesday at the San Rafael City Hall, 1400 5th Ave.; and 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Dance Palace, 503 B St. in Point Reyes Station.

Copies of the report are available on the Web at www.abarisgroup.com. For more information, call (888) 367-0911.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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