Leaders, residents powwow on health care Panels look forward to turn of century

April 04, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

More than 200 Howard County health officials, business leaders and residents gathered yesterday to brainstorm on ways to reduce cancer and other diseases and improve health care.

The daylong health care conference at Howard Community College yielded a wide range of suggestions.

Among them: financial incentives for healthy behavior, "sin taxes" that would discourage purchases of alcohol and cigarettes, and outreach programs like corporate-sponsored health screenings for the uninsured.

Other suggestions included adding more smoking prevention and cessation programs for young women, the poor and minorities; assigning case managers to employees who refuse to see doctors; and creating entertaining classes to encourage exercise.

Participants met in six small focus groups to discuss the county's leading health problems: cardiovascular disease, cancer, AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, health insurance for the uninsured, and lack of access and availability of services for the elderly and low-income people.

The topics were selected through a survey last fall of more than 600 residents on health concerns within the county. Heart disease, alcoholism, drug abuse and cancer concerned residents most, the survey found.

Organizers said the conference was one of many steps to improve the health of county residents by the year 2000.

"The clue here is 'interactive,' and the long-term goal is a healthier population in Howard County," said Diane Hocker, co-chairwoman of the Health Improvement Leadership Team, an advisory group to the Howard County Board of Health. The board and the team co-sponsored yesterday's conference.

"Many decisions are made within the confines of the medical community," said Ms. Hocker. "This is an effort to involve the grass roots."

The team will study the recommendations and seek ways to carry them out them during the next seven years.

In one of the focus groups, about 15 people discussed ways to reduce the county's cancer death rates. According to the American Cancer Society, Delaware and Maryland led the nation with the highest number of cancer deaths last year.

Howard County women also have the highest rate of breast cancer in the Baltimore area, according to a county report released in October.

While many of the recommendations couldn't be carried out for years, some could be put into effect immediately.

State Del. Virginia M. Thomas, a Howard County Democrat, urged participants to call their legislators to urge support for two health insurance bills that would create a comprehensive, standard health benefit plan for businesses with two to 50 employees.

Robert Goldman, the Columbia Association vice president, who attended yesterday's conference, said, "Each of us needs to make a personal commitment for a healthier lifestyle."

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