Meet our newest contributor, Shasta County Public Health Director Donnell Ewert, who writes today about improving access to health care coverage for small businesses. ~
At Shasta County Public Health, our mission is working with communities to protect and improve health. Our primary focus is preventing disease and injury before they happen. Nevertheless, we also have a responsibility to assure that all people have access to services they need when they become ill or injured.
In Shasta County, health care services are provided mostly by private businesses, including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, community clinics, doctors’ offices and more. We also have some public health service providers: a district hospital in Fall River Mills, some health services provided by county government, a Veterans’ Administration clinic and two clinics operated by Native American tribes.
Most of these providers (public and private) rely heavily on revenue from government-funded programs, such as Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, Medicare and the County Medical Services Program (CMSP). Most health care businesses also provide some measure of charity care for uninsured people. The more uninsured patients seen by these businesses, the more precarious their financial viability becomes.
Tragically, some of our neighbors still lack access to even the most basic health care, and their numbers are increasing. In Shasta County, the number of people with health insurance decreased from 85% in 2000 to 78% in 2007. This trend is bad not only for people without insurance but also for the medical care providers we all depend on.
The Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency is working to reverse that trend by enrolling eligible people in Medi-Cal, Healthy Families and the County Medical Services Program. But some people earn too much to qualify for those programs, and they work for small businesses that cannot afford to provide health care insurance. Because of this, we have partnered with local chambers of commerce and the Shasta Builders’ Exchange to begin to tackle this complex issue.
Shasta County small business owners (with 50 employees or less) who participate in a brief, online health insurance survey can win $10 and $100 Amazon.com gift certificates through Jan. 30. This information will be used to help county and state policymakers understand the barriers that keep small businesses owners from providing health insurance – and hopefully, to help them obtain economical coverage for their employees.
Companies with 50 or fewer employees can visit bizhealthcare.org to take the confidential survey being conducted in partnership with The Access Project, a national leader in health care access, consumer advocacy and policy change. Survey results will be available this spring.
I’m grateful to Kelly Brewer, Doni Greenberg, and the News Café team for allowing me to contribute to this site. In months to come, I plan to open up discussions on a variety of public health topics from nutrition to suicide prevention, and I look forward to learning from the thoughtful discourse that occurs here. I thank you for helping us build a healthier community.
Donnell Ewert, MPH, is director of Shasta County Public Health. While at Wheaton College, he participated in the Human Needs and Global Resources program, which included a seven-month internship in Hondura, which sparked his interest in public health. He earned his master’s degree from UCLA after evaluating a program that used goats to increase the nutritional intake of malnourished children. He worked briefly as a health educator with migrant farm workers in Virginia before becoming an epidemiologist for the health departments in Los Angeles and the state of Indiana. Donnell came to Shasta County Public Health as an epidemiologist in 1999, after doing humanitarian health work in Kazakhstan. He has been the department director since 2007. He and his wife, Mary, have two teenage daughters.