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State health-care initiative to launch in May

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Preventive care, chronic disease management, and promoting healthy lifestyles should be the top priorities of a health-care innovation initiative to launch in May, state Health and Human Resources acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo said Tuesday.

As discussed in the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, the plan calls for working with physicians, medical schools, hospitals and health-care providers to improve the quality of health for state residents while controlling costs.

"It has to be a public-private partnership," Nancy Sullivan, assistant to the secretary, told committee members.

Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, said he hoped the initiative would succeed where other recent efforts to improve public health, such as GOHELP (the Governor's Office of Health Enhancement and Lifestyle Planning) had faltered.

Jenkins said it is significant that there is some stability in leadership in state government for the first time since Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., died in 2010.

"For the first time in a long time, I feel like we've got a stable, four-year landscape," he said.

"One of our issues with GOHELP was that we were never sure the previous administration really embraced that concept," Jenkins added, referring to then-Gov. Joe Manchin, elected midway through Byrd's term to fill the Senate vacancy.

Sullivan said the initiative would set up workgroups to address specific aspects of improving the health of state residents, including:

* Better health outcomes to develop ways to provide patient-centered medical homes, increase primary care providers, and expand preventive care programs.

* Better health care, to develop physician-driven improvement plans for health services.

* Cost containment, with goals of reducing preventable hospitalizations and hospital readmissions.

With West Virginia ranking among the unhealthiest states for poor nutrition, high tobacco use, lack of exercise, and obesity, along with high rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, Fucillo said it is imperative that the workgroups take action.

"We're to the point now where we can't just engage in more studies," he said.

Committee Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Lincoln, a physician, agreed.

"Sometimes, we can't get things moving until there's a crisis," Stollings said. "If you look at these things, and think there's not a crisis, think again."

With the state-run Public Employees Insurance Agency, Medicaid, and Children's Health Insurance Plan providing health coverage for about 750,000 of the state's 1.8 million residents, Fucillo said the DHHR can play a key role in the initiative.

However, he said it also will require the commitment of the private sector, and of individual West Virginians.

"If individuals cannot take responsibility for themselves in terms of engaging in healthy lifestyles, this will fail," Fucillo said.

"We're at a point where we have to try to tie everything together," Stollings said afterward. "We've studied this a lot. Now, we have to implement it."

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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