Fox professor’s research aims to improve life in Montgomery County
Access to healthcare affects us all. On Nov. 15, David Barton Smith, a professor of risk, insurance and healthcare management at The Fox School of Business, released a report on his research on healthcare needs and access in Montgomery County. The report also covered community educational and cultural needs.
His report, “An Independent Assessment of Health, Human Services, and Cultural and Educational Needs of Montgomery County,” focused on the unmet educational needs of the pre-K-12 school-age population, the arts and cultural needs of the K-12 school-age population, and the special needs of the county’s relatively small but growing immigrant and minority populations.
“We were able to provide a voice for many of the service providers frustrated with the difficulties in helping their clients and with the individuals trapped in a cycle of disadvantage,” Smith said. “We met with homeless families, those struggling to recover from drug addiction and discharged prisoners, and were overwhelmed by the difficulties they face. They showed us that, by some bad luck and a few bad choices, we could be in their shoes.”
Smith’s research was supported by a coalition including The Independence Foundation, Merck and Company, Inc., Montgomery Country Foundation, Inc., Montgomery County Human Services Administration, North Penn United Way, North Penn Community Health Foundation, The Philadelphia Foundation, The Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and United Way of Western Montgomery County. This was the first time these organizations worked together on a common project.
The coalition based its goals for the research on “Healthy People 2010,” a national initiative that aims to increase the quality and years of healthy life and eliminate health disparities.
“The goal was to develop common priorities and a strategy for the more than $20 million these nine funders invest in Montgomery County each year. Unlike so many research topics academics get involved in, there was real money to do something about the challenges that were identified,” Smith said.
Since he had completed similar, successful projects for Bucks and Montgomery counties, the funders for this project approached Smith to work on this research.
“In general, a county-level project makes sense, as most health, social service and school districts tend to be incorporated in this unit and a lot of the public funding for services flows through county government,” Smith explained.
The final report outlines strengths and challenges facing the health and human service issues throughout Montgomery County.
Even though Montgomery County is the second most affluent county in Pennsylvania and among the most affluent in the nation, it still faces the same health and social problems that plague most U.S. communities. Such problems include:
- Jurisdictional complexity of governmental units, resulting in the fragmentation and duplication of services and the blockage of regional planning and development.
- Concentration of the economically disadvantaged in a relatively few municipalities.
- Financial pressures and demands for efficiency, which narrow the focus of health and human services agencies, and reduce their ability to respond effectively to the complex needs of those they serve.
In his report, Smith writes, “Evidence suggests that it takes a sustained and coordinated investment to help those trapped in the shadows in a cycle of disadvantage.”
To increase healthy years of life, people should have better access to information and services that will ensure they get the highest possible quality of life. To eliminate disparities, Smith points to the need to eliminate homelessness and housing vulnerability, and to equalize the percentage of low-income people in the populations of different schools, districts and municipalities.
To accomplish these goals, Smith’s recommendations include a countywide initiative to reduce smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyles; expanding the integration of Head Start into the schools; and broadening school health programs by urging school districts to seek and establish meaningful partnerships with community-based prevention and treatment providers, and by facilitating on-campus programs whenever possible.
Smith wrote, “Narrowly focused efforts do not work: they are mistakenly thought to be more cost-effective. The immediate priority is for leadership to cut through the fragmented soils that work at cross purposes and spend more than $10,000 per person in Montgomery County to address the health and human service needs.”
For more information, and to review the executive summary, please visit http://sbm.temple.edu/crc/health-mont.html.
By Rebecca C. Carroll
for The Fox School of Business