We all have a stake in central city health care

Recent discussions about whether Milwaukee’s health systems are working together to address the health needs of the central city provide a welcome, and clearly necessary forum to highlight the laudable record of leadership and commitment demonstrated by these organizations, along with other health care partners.

In 2006, the five local health systems began a candid discussion about how to improve health care for Milwaukee’s medically underserved – a discussion then, and still today, aimed at bringing needed focus and coordination between government and providers in addressing the deteriorating situation in the City of Milwaukee. Together we created the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership as a forum for collaboration with the community health centers, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and State, County and City health departments. Our goal: to work together to improve coverage, access and care coordination for Milwaukee’s Medicaid and low income uninsured populations. And after five years, we’re still at it. These collaborative efforts rarely grab headlines, but the Partnership continues to make steady progress.

The Partnership has secured over $12 million in new funding to improve care and care delivery in low income communities, about 80 percent of which has come from the five health systems. This coordinated effort, backed by significant leadership, staff and in-kind support, has moved thousands of uninsured individuals into coverage, increased capacity at safety net clinics, increased access to affordable medications and connected thousands of uninsured and underinsured emergency department patients with medical homes. These activities and investments are over and above the individual health systems’ community contributions, charity care and Medicaid shortfalls for under-reimbursed services which collectively totaled $424,600,000 last year.

Milwaukee health care providers have demonstrated our willingness to collaborate and made significant commitments to increase health care access, and have stepped in where government has cut back. But the magnitude and complexity of Milwaukee’s health needs requires more focus, more attention and more leadership … from all the stakeholders. High rates of poverty and unemployment, lack of adequate and affordable insurance and the poor health status of Milwaukee residents require resources beyond what the health systems can provide. Today, 22 percent of the county population lives at or below the poverty level and 30 percent of all Milwaukee County residents are enrolled in a Medicaid program. Another 12 to 15 percent are uninsured; the majority of whom are employed yet lack access to coverage. Milwaukee also continues to have some of the highest rates in the country for obesity, substance abuse, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and chronic illness.

Health care access is indeed part of the solution, but the needs go well beyond, and health care providers can’t do it alone. All stakeholders – including city and county government leaders, state agencies, community based organizations, insurance providers, the business and philanthropic community, and the patients we care for – need to work together to address these more fundamental health issues and unacceptable racial disparities. It requires a focused community health improvement plan, anchored by access to primary care and supported by a variety of strategic public health and prevention programs. Through the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, we are working together to improve coverage, access and care coordination for a vulnerable population. As a community, we now have to work upstream from medical intervention and focus our attention and funding on those efforts which will promote health, improve outcomes, reduce disparities and reduce the total cost of care.

William D. Petasnick
Froedtert Health
Chair, Milwaukee Health Care Partnership

John Oliverio
Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

Mark Taylor
Columbia St. Mary’s

Peggy Troy
Children’s Hospital and Health System

Nick W. Turkal MD
Aurora Health Care

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