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TODAY news for Thursday, November 2, 2006

School of Public Health news

American Health Care Congress stirs public resolve for health care system improvement

The American Health Care Congress turned 3 this year. October 17 marked the third annual installment of this conference designed to encourage improvements to the United States health care system.

This year’s congress took a different approach than the first two.

“Each year, the congress is growing in terms of participation and clarity of purpose,” says Dora Barilla, MPH, congress chair. “The first year was to educate people regarding the challenges facing health care. In the third and fourth years we are shifting the discussion toward the solutions.”

The School of Public Health plans the congress, which features expert speakers, workshops, and panel discussions that are designed to educate the public and encourage people to take part in affecting change. The congress takes place at Ontario Convention Center in Ontario.

“Our School is committed to providing the current and emerging generation of health care workers and policy makers the tools they need to address the public health issues of our time,” says David Dyjack, DrPH, interim dean of the School of Public Health.

This year, the lineup of the congress included keynote speakers Jerre Stead and Stuart Altman, PhD, MA.

Mr. Stead has led a successful career in corporate executive management. He spoke about a business competitive edge in health care.

Dr. Altman is dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Dr. Altman is the leading health policy analyst in the country, and he wanted to contribute to our efforts,” says Ms. Barilla. “That speaks volumes for the congress.”

In his presentation, Dr. Altman pointed out that while Americans do not want a health care revolution, some changes are necessary.

“Most importantly we need to reduce the amount of unnecessary and marginally useful care and improve the quality of care that is provided. To help achieve these goals we need to change the way we pay for care so as to reward appropriate and good  quality care,” Dr. Altman says.

The congress also featured many other speakers. Ontario mayor Paul Leon spoke about the current state of health care in his city and the progress made to improve health care at the city level.

An update on the status of health care in the Inland Empire was given by Eric Frykman, MD, MPH, MBA, San Bernardino County’s health officer, and Susan Harrington, MS, RD, public health director for Riverside County.

Peter Harbage, MPP, president of Harbage and Associates and a national health care expert, discussed the state of health care in California.

Another speaker, Jack Glaser, PhD, of the Center for Healthcare Reform at St. Joseph Health System in Orange, California, highlighted the need for society to refine its health care priorities and values.

“Significant reform will take place when our society has clarified what it wants health care to do and is willing to take the actions necessary to make it happen,” says Ms. Barilla.

A panel discussion on “moving towards action” demonstrated various perspectives on solving health care problems at the local, state, and national levels. The panelists were Mark Gamble, MBA, Los Angeles area regional vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC); Kathleen O’Connor, MA, founder and board president of CodeBlueNow!; Patricia Schoeni, MA, executive director of National Coalition on Health Care; and Judy Spelman, RN, experienced political advocate.

Additionally, seven concurrent workshops were held by experts in their respective health care fields.

While many of the congress’s speakers and attendees are in the health care industry, the congress also strives to appeal to an interdisciplinary audience. Attendees come from other fields, as well.

The congress was well received by attendees, Ms. Barilla says. “The audience felt the Congress helped clarify a lot of issues and changed the tone of the traditional conversation on health care,” says Ms. Barilla.

Attendee Lilly Mucarsel came to the congress because she knew of some of the speakers through her advocacy work with the American Diabetes Association in Orange County, where she is associate director for Latino initiatives, advocacy programs, and education.

The event made her realize how much work there is to be done on the American health care system, she says. And she believes it can be done if people come together, leaving out personal interests.

Furthermore, Ms. Mucarsel is pleased with Loma Linda University’s initiative in tackling the health care issue. “Loma Linda is taking the lead, and I’m very proud of them,” Ms. Mucarsel said after the congress. “We need to educate the community.”

The School of Public Health is already planning for future congresses.

“The Congress has tremendous potential to discuss and debate alternative solutions in the years to come,” says Ms. Barilla,  “and is a great resource in the Inland Empire.”

The American Health Care Congress is supported by CodeBlueNow!, National Coalition on Health Care, Loma Linda University Medical Center, San Antonio Community Hospital, St. Joseph Health System, San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, Community Hospital of San Bernardino, First 5 San Bernardino, Inland Empire Health Plan, the Latino Health Collaborative, and the Lewis Group of Companies. The event’s signature sponsor is the Institute for Healthcare Advancement (IHA).

Dora Barilla, MPH, contributed to this article.

By Heather Reifsnyder

TODAY news for Thursday, November 2, 2006