Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker remains upbeat about the county’s health care woes, although budget constraints strangle nearly every facet of the county’s finances.

“We want to make sure that everybody who needs health care in this county will have access,” Baker said earlier this month.

A 2010 study conducted by Rand, a nonprofit that studies policymaking, pointed out several factors hindering the county’s health care system.

The county’s 80,000 uninsured adult residents is one of the most pressing problems. According to the report, Prince George’s is home to twice as many uninsured adults compared to Howard County and a third more than Montgomery County. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that Prince George’s has only one federally qualified medical center that serves uninsured residents. The county also has a lower number of primary care physicians, surgeons, obstetricians and psychiatrists than many of its neighbors.

The report calls for the county to strengthen its health care safety net and warns health care disparities could continue to grow and ultimately strain the county’s budget if this doesn’t happen.

“The absence of a safety net threatens to perpetuate health disparities and lead to greater preventable use of care in expensive hospital settings,” the report said.

The county’s most affluent residents are more likely to receive health care in neighboring counties, the report said, creating another breakdown in its health care system. Whether convenience, job location or mistrust drives higher-income residents to seek health care outside the county, the Rand report said officials must encourage residents to get health care at home.

The best way to achieve that is to create more jobs in the county, something county officials are working on.

“Investing in commercial growth improves our quality of life on two fronts,” Baker said in his state of the economy address. “It brings us the commercial options we want and it funds the government services that we deserve.”

In the short term, however, Baker has worked hard to keep the county’s health care system afloat until he’s able to achieve more aggressive economic development. “I guarantee you that we’re going to keep the doors of and Bowie Health Center open,” he told the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce. “We’re going to make sure that happens.”

Baker was able to get $15 million of the county’s budget for Prince George’s Hospital but knew that would not be enough to sustain its operating costs.

He lobbied his colleagues in Annapolis for additional funding and ultimately garnered an additional $15 million in funding. It is that kind of cooperation that makes Baker and other officials believe they can duplicate this in the future.

“I am really proud of our county delegation and all of the elected officials in Prince George’s County,” Senate Delegation Chairman Douglas “J.J.” Peters, D-Dist. 23, said in a statement. “We all worked together and truly were able to make a difference during the 2011 General Assembly session.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO