Today’s Clarion-Ledger reports that Governor-elect Phil Bryant’s transition team is hard at work in its makeshift office on the 12th floor of the Woolfolk Building in downtown Jackson.
A key focus is lining up leadership for the new administration – a critical task, no doubt. Concerned citizens can also hope the team is busy gathering useful ideas and policy directions for helping Mississippi make progress in the tough times ahead. Here are a few they might want to consider:
1. Make health – the health of all Mississippians – a defining policy feature of the Bryant administration. Is anything more important and valuable in itself, but also more critical to sustainable economic development and overall well-being, than health? A poor health profile is the dead weight anchoring a bevy of bottom rankings for the state. Can’t stand Obama’s approach to health care reform? Fine, let’s find another way that works for Mississippi.
2. Emphasize “positive” health, i.e. prevention, public health, health education, health and wellness promotion. We’ll always need clinical services, but at the rate we’re going, expansion of clinical services to cover the growing impact of poor health is not only unaffordable, but simply impossible. Most of our major health “epidemics” – obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes – are preventable. And prevention – though education and behavior change – is a whole lot more affordable than treatment.
3. Facilitate (insist on, where possible) collaboration among all the state’s health leaders and actors, public and private - educators, researchers, service providers, policy-makers, advocates. Mississippi cannot afford to squander its limited resources through duplication, ineffective intervention, or poor communication among system actors. We need to work together toward solution-oriented synergies and to set up practical structures that make innovation and teamwork more likely. Most of all, we need to identify “what works,” and implement winning strategies on a broad scale.
4. Push out from Jackson. University of Mississippi Medical Center has an indispensible role to play in Mississippi’s health. But UMMC does not a health care system make, and a “medical city” stretching west from State Street in Jackson will not address even a fraction of the health needs of the state. Mississippi remains a mostly rural state, with many of the most acute needs – for both prevention/health promotion and clinical intervention – residing in underserved rural areas.
5. Generously fund health education professional and pre-professional programs at all levels – from K-12, through community colleges, to bacculaureate and graduate programs – and for both the clinical professions and the prevention/health promotion-oriented professions. We need more doctors, nurses, clinical lab specialists, and audiologists. We also need more physical education teachers, nutritionists and dieticians, health educators, recreation specialists, exercise scientists, and social workers. Education is expensive, to be sure. But as every politician admits (at least when they’re in campaign mode), there is no better long-term investment that we can make.