Senator Baker Discusses Health Care Initiatives with the Northeast Division of the Pennsylvania Association of Health Care Auxiliaries

Let me assure everyone that the cast on my foot is not the result of vigorously kicking the health care system. Nor was I practicing field goals in case Penn State needs an emergency fill-in placekicker – although I do have experience. During my college days, I was the kicker during the Turkey Bowl, an annual tackle football charity fundraiser.

I appreciate the chance to be with you today to provide an update on our efforts improve the availability and affordability of health care in Pennsylvania and what you can do as auxiliary members.

There is an old story about a man who goes to see a high-priced specialist to find an answer for a serious health condition.

After a series of tests and treatments, the man is presented with a hefty bill, which he protests. So the doctor offers to cut the bill by a third.

The man objects again, so the doctor swallows hard and cuts the bill in half. And the man protests again.

So the doctor asks the man what he can afford, and the answer comes back – nothing really.

Taken aback, the doctor asks why he came to see him if he had no money. The patient answers plainly that when his health is at risk, cost is no object.

We all want quality, accessible care at an affordable price, somewhere on this side of the rainbow. Having watched countless medical dramas over the years, we figure that our condition should be diagnosed and treated within sixty minutes…by heartthrob doctors and nurses no less.

But our challenges in providing health care refuse to stick to a script, and dispensing health care is not the same as discount retailing.

With all the attention given to health care costs and the high price of the marvelous medical technology now available, it might surprise some folks – not anyone in this room of course – that volunteers are a vital part of the system. You are a key component to the health of our communities.

Just to give you an idea, according to the Points of Light Foundation, the economic impact of a volunteer hour is a little over $18.00 per hour. I think it is safe to say that your donations of time and talents could pay for more than one MRI or CT scanner.

Today, all sorts of amazing treatments are being used, but healing is still helped along by some old-fashioned, time-honored cures – the personal touch, and personal faith.

I knew it all along, but my work with The Blue Ribbon Foundation made me doubly appreciate the commitment and the compassion of those who contribute generously in time and spirit supporting the various aspects of health care.

By partnering with your hospitals and volunteers, we were able to make an impact on the health of our region through program’s that addressed the root causes of illness – and hopefully bring costs down. We worked with Wayne Memorial Hospital on a family-focused program to help people lose weight. Pocono Medical Center had a similar initiative focused on children. We worked with John Heinz and Allied services to help people better cope with vision problems such as macular degeneration. We also worked with Wyoming Valley Health Care on a program to help people manage their diabetes.

Other fundraising efforts like Pocono Medical Center’s TV Auction, Wayne Memorial Hospital’s Showtime at the Ritz, and General Hospital’s Starlight Ball bring free and low-cost mammograms, blood pressure screenings and other health care services to those in need.

At the rate things are going with the economy and the financial markets, we may have to dispatch the hospital auxiliaries to do some healing work on Wall Street.

With an eye toward expanded community service opportunities and outlets, health care is an area of prominent mention. Health care volunteers are not invisible.

Whether you work in the hospitality shop, greet visitors and patients, or somewhere behind the scenes – people see you, they value your work, and they want to expand on your example.

Just as the explorers wandered across the continent looking for gold or the Fountain of Youth, so do decision makers spend a great deal of time searching for the perfect health care plan.

The insistence on the biggest and the best is often an obstacle to achieving reforms that are financially palatable and eminently practical.

Remember how our kids would get their shoes so knotted up it nearly took a Swiss Army knife to cut them off? Well, that seems to be the way health care issues are all knotted up in Harrisburg.

Simple, sensible measures, such as reauthorizing the Health Care Cost Containment Council – one of the best analytical tools anywhere – are caught up in this policy tangle. The same is true of the funding we use to retain and attract top-notch medical practitioners.

Nearly everyone agrees that electronic medical records will improve care and avoid mistakes. But when the question is paying for installing the technology, agreement collapses.

It is not a matter of a shortage of good intentions. It is not a matter of a buildup of calloused indifference. The gap to be bridged is between the system Pennsylvanians want and the system they are willing to pay for.

Most of the attention of advocacy groups and media commentators is given to efforts to expand health care coverage. But a lot of work is being done with less fanfare to shore up the health care facilities that are economic engines as well as crucial health care providers. We pay attention to the temperature of health care facilities as carefully as we do that of an ailing patient.

During the budget negotiations, we successfully added funding for our critical access hospitals – small community hospitals like Barnes-Kasson, serving rural and low income residents. And last year, we approved a measure to reduce health care acquired infections. I know first-hand how this can drive up costs. Following a recent surgery, my mother acquired an infection that resulted in an additional six-week stay in the hospital.

As we conclude the legislative session, I can assure you that the General Assembly is focused on health care – negotiations are ongoing between the governor, and the House and Senate, on a variety of bills and proposals – mini-COBRA for small employers, options for parents to secure coverage for their children up to age 30, support for medical clinics, reauthorization of MCARE, CHIP expansion and reducing the waiting list for Adult Basic – these issues are all on the table and actively being discussed.

Government will never be the answer, but it must be part of the solution – along with doctors, health care providers, insurers, consumers and volunteers like you.

So what is the prescription for health care success? So far, nobody has been able to answer that questions. But in my view, common sense, commitment, and consensus building, all mixed together, will go a long way in solving the problem.

Too much time is spent playing to political or special interest audiences. More needs to be done cooperatively to make intelligent and heartfelt decisions to help both health care consumers and providers.

At the end of the day, every piece of health care legislation impacts each of your auxiliaries and each of you.

So my advice to you is to continue to play a vital role in the process. Continue to be active in your association, develop relationships with your elected officials. Stay involved, stay connected and be a strong voice for the things that are important to your hospitals and communities. To give us a system that is the best in service – not the biggest and shiniest and most expensive – is a pretty good message to share.

Contact: Brian Grove
(570) 675-3931

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