Q&A: Denise Bollheimer 

Chair of the Healthy Memphis Common Table

In a study released last week titled "Aiming High: Results from a State Scorecard on Health System Performance," the South failed miserably. But barbecue and deep-fried Twinkies can't take all the blame. The private health foundation study evaluated states in five categories: access, quality, avoidable costs, equity, and healthy lives.

Hawaii came out on top, while Mississippi and Oklahoma tied for last. Arkansas was 48th, and Tennessee came in 40th. The Flyer recently spoke with Denise Bollheimer, chair of the Healthy Memphis Common Table, about these results and their implications for Memphis. — by Rachel Stinson

Flyer: Why did Mississippi tie for last?

Bollheimer: Health conditions in Mississippi — and Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana — might have been prevented with timely and appropriate health care.

In the study, nearly 20 percent of adults in Mississippi went without care because of costs. Mississippi is among the states with the highest rates of uninsured adults in the nation. Because of the lack of access, people in the region use expensive emergency care more than in other states.

Memphis is situated next to two of the three lowest-ranking states.

Many of the health concerns in the Memphis region could be reduced with better diet, exercise, stress control, and access to care. Obesity and diabetes occur at epidemic levels in this area. These conditions lead to many other problems. In addition, improved access to care is a critical factor in improving health. It is far less expensive to the patient, employers, and the economy if care is received in the early stages of a disease.

Should this study be taken seriously?

Yes, very seriously. Poor health outcomes in states with high poverty rates place a heavy burden of illness on everyone, including employers, taxpayers, and local governments. The problem raises serious challenges for care systems like the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, the UT doctors who help patients there, and public-health policies and funding.

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