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CHCA Takes Five

Advocacy group targets five issues in '05

Retiree James Constant joined Citizens Health Care Advocates (CHCA) when the nonprofit organization was formed three years ago partly because of his concerns about his rising health insurance premiums.

But he was also concerned that other citizens like himself have a voice when decisions were made locally that affected their health care, including its costs.

That has been the mission of CHCA from the beginning. And the group will do even more to raise questions and get answers in 2005, said Dale Taylor, CHCA chair. Taylor is vice president of human resources at WaxWorks/VideoWorks.

This year, CHCA will set up committees to focus on five areas, Taylor said. The areas are access to health care, healthy lifestyles, governmental affairs, health care costs and organizational development. The committees will be led by teams of CHCA board members, he said. “This is an extremely aggressive and ambitious approach and I am so very proud of our board for their vision and commitment,” he said.

CHCA’s work in 2005 will also get a boost from a $5,000 grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a statewide organization which encourages community efforts to improve health care. The grant is in addition to financial support that CHCA receives from the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro (PLFO). Carol Ireson, a professor of public health at the University of Kentucky who has worked with the Public Life Foundation on health care research, said CHCA is a model for other communities in the state.“To my knowledge this is the only such citizens group that looks at the health care needs in a local community,” she said. At the same time, CHCA was recently asked to nominate a member for a board seat at Owensboro Medical Health System. That doesn’t mean the CHCA nominee will be chosen – but it does mean its work is being recognized by medical providers in the community.“I certainly think that a group such as this has the potential to educate the public and rally support for important issues,” said Debby Neel, vice president of the OMHS HealthPark.

CHCA was created following a health needs assessment in 2000 initiated by the Public Life Foundation and completed by Ireson and others at UK. It revealed that health care access, costs and associated problems were a major concern of citizens in the region.

The next year, PLFO launched the People’s Health Project to gather more information from citizens. The project included 52 moderated forums throughout the community and involved more than 600 participants.

From this process, CHCA emerged in 2002. The idea was for the organization to continue encouraging citizen dialogue – and action – on health care issues. “It’s easy to complain – but things change when people are willing to get involved,” said Rosemary Lawson, the group’s first chair.

The group immediately focused on health care access, collaborating with other community groups on how to lower prescription drug costs and find primary care physicians for the poor and uninsured. Among other things, CHCA developed and distributed directories of local health centers and primary care doctors.

At the same time, the group began sponsoring monthly programs on a variety of health care topics; they are later aired on OTCV Channel 51.

CHCA also initiated community forums on matters of special interest. For instance in 2003, when Owensboro Mercy Health System announced it would buy out Catholic Healthcare Partners, CHCA approached the hospital about seeking citizen input. The hospital’s executive committee agreed to a series of open forums which were facilitated by Dale Taylor. During the forums, hospital board members explained and answered questions about the buyout and listened to citizen comments.

Then during the 2004 Kentucky General Assembly session, CHCA helped sponsor a community forum on proposed increases in the tobacco tax. The forum included proponents of raising the tax as well as a local tobacco farmer who was concerned about the impact of such a tax on his livelihood. CHCA later issued its first “action alert” asking local citizens to contact elected officials to share their views about the tobacco tax.

Finally, every year CHCA recognizes people who go the extra mile in providing health care to the poor and uninsured through the R.C. Neblett Service Award/Salute to Health Care Professionals. Dr. Neblett was an African-American physician who provided charity care in Owensboro many years ago.

Currently the CHCA board includes business owners, human resource professionals, nonprofit directors of various agencies, a physician’s assistant, a pharmacist, a postal worker, and retirees. The Public Life Foundation provides staff support from project manager Beverly Mills and a small amount of grant money. John Hager, founder of the PLFO, and Rodney Berry, PLFO president, do not hold positions on the board and do not have a vote.

Copyright ©2005 Public Life Foundation of Owensboro
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