Investing in metro Atlanta’s uninsured

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One of every four Georgia residents of working age lacks health insurance. Sadly, the number of young Georgians without insurance is rising dramatically in some of metro Atlanta’s largest communities.

The story echoes throughout our heartland. Federal data shows that nationwide health care spending has grown at its slowest rate in 50 years, a sobering signal that people are skipping care during the recession. And nationwide, nearly 16 percent of Americans are uninsured – a trend disturbingly confirmed throughout Georgia.

Good health should be part of everyone’s daily life- not an unreachable luxury. Local businesses like GE can provide the help needed to reach the top of that challenging hill. We can make people better now, even as longterm cures for our ailing system endure arduous debate.

This week, the GE Foundation- GE’s philanthropic organization- named West End Medical Centers and Southside Medical Center beneficiaries of its Developing Health program. Each of these metro Atlanta nonprofit community health centers will receive $500,000 grants and volunteer support from local GE employees. This public-private partnership will help deliver urgent services to those who need them most.

“As unemployment has increased, so has the need for affordable health care options for the uninsured,” said Dr. Michael W. Brooks, president and CEO of West End Medical Centers, where services save taxpayers millions of dollars by deterring people from using emergency rooms as primary care. West End patient demand has increased during the past three years, driven by population growth, economic decline and the uninsured.

“Our partnership with the GE Foundation will help more people access comprehensive primary health care, health education and affordable dental care,” Brooks said.

There’s a similar challenge at Southside Medical Center, Georgia’s largest community health center, handling more than 130,000 patient-visits annually, many of whom are near the poverty line and without medical insurance.

“Access to primary care means both affordability and accessibility that can mean helping patients get to a center,” said Dr. David M. Williams, Southside CEO. “The best health care in the world is wasted if people can’t get to us.”

Though GE is a global corporation, we have more than 5,000 proud, Georgia-based employees who are leading healthier lives and sharing their talents and time so that others in our communities can maintain their health.

Good health in any measure benefits whole communities. Good health is a mind-set and a lifestyle. Good health is a cause that will propel neighbors and work forces, inspire volunteers and commitments and protect children and their elders.

This is our experience in other places where Developing Health works, including nonprofit community health centers in Cincinnati, Houston, Milwaukee and New York- a total contribution of $50 million by the GE Foundation, double our initial commitment.

Our Georgia employees will provide brains, muscle and compassion to West End and Southside. Their skills – whether in data analysis, human resources or information technology- will help these centers reach more people.

I encourage businesses of all sizes to join our partnership or form their own alliances. Atlanta ranks No. 5 in the nation for uninsured residents, but with imagination, commitment and vision, our corporate community can change that ranking so that our community is No. 1 in touching more lives and improving quality of care.

John G. Rice is vice chairman of GE and president and CEO of GE Technology Infrastructure, based in Atlanta.

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