083117 Health care: Amid national debate, a novel idea – keeping people well
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Dr. Gerry Harmon, the AMA chairman, talks to community leaders.

Health care: Amid national debate, a novel idea – keeping people well

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

In Georgetown County, health care is a major concern.

Growing costs and a shift from private payer to government-based paying have caused Tidelands Health to approach the health care problem in a new way: they want to keep people healthy.

It’s not just the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, the ACA reduced Georgetown County’s uninsured by 7 percent, it’s a demographic change. The Baby Boomers are getting older. The shift from private health insurance to Medicare is felt by everyone from hospitals to taxpayers. And the increase in health care usage that comes with age is there too. So Tidelands is working to help Boomers and their younger counterparts become aware of their health.

Keeping Americans healthy is one of the American Medical Board’s strategic goals, but Tidelands started doing it independent of that direction. “We’re making ourselves sick,” said Dr. Gerry Harmon. One way is a lack of exercise and the convenience of modern life is causing an uneven intake of calories versus caloric burn, Harmon said. “Technology has made it easy for us. We don’t even have to shift gears in cars anymore for Pete’s sake.”

A society that desires more of everything simply because the possibility is there is a contributing factor. That’s why the AMA, and Tidelands, are looking toward wellness initiatives. The health care industry wants you to be able to visit them less. Harmon, who became chairman of the board of trustees for the AMA in June takes pride in being a part of Tidelands. “My little, small hospital, independent of the AMA’s idea, is doing things for the right reasons,” he said.

The right reasons are the people of Georgetown and Horry counties. By keeping them healthier, they reduce the cost burden shared by small businesses, consumers and health care providers. Medically, the top problems in American society are cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, smoking and alcohol overuse. Almost all of those are preventable, but end up costing America $1.5 trillion annually.

Besides high blood pressure, which Harmon is passionate about controlling, the big one in the south is diabetes. “If we can control prediabetes we hopefully can prevent 80 percent of those from processing to full blown diabetes,” Harmon said. “We have a diabetes prevention program here in South Carolina. Tidelands Health is one of two hospitals participating in it.”

The problem with prediabetes is that most people don’t know they have it. Prediabetes is a term used to describe borderline diabetes. A person is sick, their blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Without lifestyle changes a person with prediabetes will have full blown type 2 diabetes in 2-5 years. State Department of Health and Environmental Control reports that 90 percent of adults are unaware of their predicament, and that 15 percent of adults with prediabetes also have hypertension. “Diabetes costs us $350 billion annually,” Harmon said.

Prevention is part of the pitch Tidelands CEO Bruce Bailey and Harmon made at Pawleys Plantation yesterday. The hospital system is promoting a “stronger at work” campaign that promotes wellness among employees. Tidelands Work is a program that focuses on injury prevention, injury intervention, wellness and general health. Preventing workers’ compensation and controlling employee health care costs are the goals. The initial services are free, as is inquiry. Tidelands has minimal costs associated with services offered from nurses, nutritionists and lab work for employees. At a pilot program conducted at 3V Chemical Corporation in Georgetown, “Morale has improved, costs are down and dollars are flowing to the bottom line,” Bailey said. “When employers get engaged with their employees and their families, you can make a difference,” to them and ultimately to the bottom line.

By 2025, health care spending is projected to account for 19.9 percent of the gross domestic product. The problems in Washington, D.C. surrounding health care repeal, “It’s been quite the interesting spring and summer if you’re in health care,” Bailey said. This initiative is one of the ways Tidelands is offering some certainty to the people it serves in the current political climate.

“We really are a small town hospital, 250 beds between the two hospitals, but I think we’re doing big time stuff,” Harmon said. “I tell people all the time, we’re small town, but we’re not small time.”

Correction: This article has been corrected from the print edition where Dr. Harmon’s name was misspelled.

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