By editorial board • 

Health care story from 2012 will gain attention this year

One major story that flew somewhat under the radar in 2012 — enough so that it did not make our Top 10 News Stories of the Year — was the formation of the Yamhill County Care Organization. We expect that organization to be the catalyst for an open and ongoing discussion in 2013 about how public health is administered.

In February, the 2012 Oregon Legislature passed Gov. John Kitzhaber’s redefinition of service to Oregon Health Plan members. The move spurred creation of community care organizations such as YCCO across the state, and groups of myriad health professions spent the remainder of 2012 setting up frameworks for service. In November, the YCCO named Jim Carlough as executive director.

In 2013, these organizations are charged with proving that the governor’s plan can produce better care while reducing public money spent on OHP members. As slow-moving elements of these care plans begin to move forward across the state, expect more discussion and more stories regarding public health.

There is much on the line for this new system, from finances to reputation. Kitzhaber secured $1.9 billion from the federal government to spend freely on his administration’s health overhaul. Locally, the YCCO reserved $500,000, to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the state, for start-up costs. Yamhill County Health and Human Services has pledged most of its reserve funds for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The county health department is in a transitional stage prompted by the legislation, and that’s where much public attention will focus. It’s a time for examination of every aspect of public health, to be critiqued and improved.

Yamhill County already has an advantage, since one focus of community care organizations is to serve OHP members with dual conditions of mental illness and addiction. The county’s ABACUS program has worked with that population for nearly two decades. One of its founders, former health and human services director Chris Johnson, passed away in September.

There’s much to watch with regard to health care policy and financing — in Oregon and, of course, nationally. There are predictions of widespread hospital failures and individual financial crises unless real solutions are found. The search for such solutions is alive in Yamhill County, and we will be watching and reporting on the progress.

As health professionals continue their new missions in 2013, the public should be watching with a keen and constructive eye. After all, the new system is created with the word “community” at its core, which invites everyone to care.

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