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Quality care signals a healthy community

Most people can’t imagine living in a community where quality healthcare isn’t readily available. Yet few give much thought to what is required to create and maintain a quality health-care system — until it’s threatened.

Quality health care is essential to personal well-being and our communities’ health. It heals, protects, and prevents, or slows, infectious disease transmission and specific health conditions. It is vital to businesses. They can’t operate without a healthy workforce.

Health care demand will likely only increase as baby boomers move into their senior years, and more younger people suffer from chronic health problems or long-term disability caused by preventable conditions like obesity or long COVID. While the COVID 19 pandemic led some to start thinking about this, the need for more health care providers and improved healthcare facilities has been an issue for a long time, both locally and nationally, especially in rural counties like Chautauqua.

This is happening just as higher numbers of health-care providers move closer to retirement or leave the profession for other reasons. The reasons for growing healthcare worker shortages across the nation are many. In some settings, it’s irregular or punishing hours, inadequate pay or benefits, or cost-saving measures that affect healthcare workers’ ability to do their jobs effectively. In other cases, it’s a lack of respect from some of the people they are trying to treat. Stress, trauma, and regularly dealing with severe illness and death wear some down. These and other issues cause some to feel poorly treated or unappreciated.

Health-care workers go into this field because they want to help their patients. When they feel they can no longer do so, they quit. Turnover is expensive not only in dollars and cents but also in expertise.

It is essential to recruit and retain more doctors, nurses, and other health care providers, like EMTs and ambulance drivers. Health-care costs can be reduced by incentivizing workers to stay or join the workforce.

Creating and maintaining a positive work environment can make workers happier and prevent burnout. Strategies like flexibility and extra training or personal development opportunities can also help. However, workforce issues are being compounded by supply cost increases and aging facilities and equipment. Balancing healthcare worker needs with all the other costs associated with delivering positive patient experiences is not easy.

Consequently, many facilities, especially hospitals located in rural areas, have been hemorrhaging money for a long time. More than a few have reduced services, become reliant on government bailouts, have been sold to large organizations, or have closed their doors altogether. Others are relocating or renovating old facilities.

Health care is a business. We have to make sure our local health-care providers stay in business and stay here.

Our health care providers have to figure out how to be self-sustaining. They need to streamline processes while maintaining high-quality patient care. That may mean adopting different approaches than people have come to expect. Advances in medicine have helped. Less invasive surgeries have dramatically reduced hospital stays or made procedures available on an outpatient basis. Telemedicine saves time and money for the patient and the healthcare practitioner.

Technologies like sharable data systems can dramatically improve services by making medical records quickly available to other providers working with the same patient. Urgent Care Centers have taken some stress off of hospital emergency rooms.

Health care availability and affordability are of prime importance in deciding where to live or work. It’s also a factor businesses consider when selecting locations. It’s time to advocate for all of our local healthcare providers, including our hospitals, to help them overcome their challenges. Our personal wellness and our community’s economic well-being depends on it.

Patty Hammond is Economic Development Coordinator at the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. The Local Economic Development (LED) Initiative is a standing committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF). Send comments or suggestions to Patty Hammond at phammond@nccfoundation.org

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