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Released October 3, 2003


HATTIESBURG - Two faculty members in The University of Southern Mississippi's College of Health recently participated in a national dialogue between community members and national health care leaders about the values and principles that should guide U.S. health care policy in the future. The findings of the year-long project, presented Sept. 23 at a summit in Washington D.C., revealed deep concern about the current direction of the U.S. health care system and a genuine desire for constructive change, according to a report released by the Wye River Group on Healthcare.

"The report resulted from a unique process wherein input was obtained from people who are knowledgeable about the healthcare system and that represented all sectors and interests around the country," said Dr. Joan Exline, interim dean for the College of Health, who along with Dr. Agnes Hinton, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Health, participated in roundtable discussions in Jackson and nine other cities across the country.

"We had community members, nurses, doctors, administrators, Medicaid directors, insurers, business owners, and academicians, etc, sitting around the table at one time talking candidly about the problems we face."

The discussions were held from July 2002 to May 2003 and focused on the shared values and principles that should provide the foundation for health care policy in this country. After each discussion, the information was distilled into a community profile highlighting the shared values and principles articulated in each community.

The findings of the report, "Communities Shaping a Vision for America's 21st Century Health and Healthcare," were showcased last month in the nation's capital at a summit intended to help launch a national dialogue on health care among the American public, policy makers and health care stakeholders.

"The report demonstrates the great promise in the ability of our health care leaders, both at the local and national level, to look logically and rationally at how we might best meet the needs of our citizens and for that matter, our physicians and health care providers," said American Healthcare Association President Dick Davidson, who attended the Washington D.C. summit. AHA is a sponsor of the project, which plans to work with national and community leaders to develop and execute a campaign to engage the public in constructive dialogue on health care challenges.

In addition to their meeting with the groups in Jackson, Dr. Hinton and Dr. Exline were allowed access to all nine of the other discussion groups. In these frank and candid dialogues, all manner of topics were examined, including equity, access to medication and the government's role in health care.

"We considered problems with some bills and some health care costs the industry might address," Hinton said.

A big issue, Hinton said, was the need for easier access to medical coverage for all Americans.

"We talked about the social contract and whether or not we felt the U.S. has a social contract for health. I think for emergency care we do, but not for everybody. That's really something that I sense as a group we agreed on, that everyone should have a basic level of care that's comprehensive. But I didn't feel like the nation as a whole felt that way," she said.

According to many community leaders who participated in the project, most Americans view health care with a sense of entitlement.

"It was interesting that common themes emerged from the ten study sites around the country," Exline said. "So, it is possible to come up with some points of consensus to improve access to the healthcare system. This is particularly important because health reform is likely to be a topic of discussion in the upcoming presidential election."

In the report, available online at, the Center for Sustainable Health Outreach at Southern Miss was highlighted, offering an example of what the commission considered an "exemplary project" it had discovered as it made its way across the country holding talks.



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October 8, 2003 2:54 PM