This past Election Day, Ohio voters said no to the federal health care law’s individual mandate for coverage. On Nov. 15, the Supreme Court agreed to hear challenges to the federal health care law brought by 26 states. With so much turmoil in federal and state health care ‘politics,’ what’s the real effect on people here in Athens County, and what help and assistance is available for them now?

These were the questions asked by the Leadership Athens County (2011-2012 class) at their Nov. 17 Community Health Day session. LAC is a community leadership program serving emerging leaders in Athens County. The day was sponsored by the O’Bleness Health System and covered a myriad of health-related topics focused on health care and mental health issues in our region and assistance programs available for those in need. Along with regional issues, the group discussed how our region may be affected by state and national health care changes in the future.

This interactive day began with the LAC group meeting at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital. The presenters included John Yanes, president and CEO of the O’Bleness Health System; Mark Snider, president of Snider, Fuller & Associates; and Cathy Levine, executive director of Universal Healthcare Action Network of Ohio. The group learned about the not-for-profit O’Bleness and its expanding array of services in Athens and Meigs Counties. Discussions concluded with a presentation on health care reform and how changes in the health care law will affect the region.

The second portion of the day, the LAC group held their meeting at the Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare facility. They learned about the wonderful programs and initiatives provided to the region by the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Area Education Center and Community Health Programs. Melissa Kemper, assistant director of the AHEC and CHP, presented information about an array of programs that include the Free Health Clinic and The Childhood Immunization Program. Next, Jennifer Schwirian, clinical program director of Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare, discussed mental health issues facing our region. This educational opportunity enlightened the group on how mental health issues are viewed by the public in general, the public forum and the challenges that are occurring due to diminished funds for mental health issues.

The day concluded with short presentations about alternative and natural health care options. The LAC group divided into small groups and discussed massage therapy, midwifery, lactation consultation, osteopathic manipulation, nutraceutical, and acupuncture opportunities available to our community.

As the day came to an end, everyone in the LAC group expressed an enhanced realization of the challenges faced by the people of Appalachia. It was reassuring to know that there are so many wonderful people in the community working to advocate for the sick and less fortunate. As funding decreases and changes in the health care law become active, the Athens region will face multiple opportunities and challenges. The LAC Community Health Day session helped the group to be more knowledgeable and better prepared to face these challenges in the future.

If you and or someone you know is in need of health care assistance, you may contact the Athens County 211 service at 211, OUH-COM CHP at 593-2432 or O’Bleness’ Community Relations Department at 592-9290. For information on Leadership Athens County, contact Tina Thacker, Director, at leadershipathenscounty@gmail.com.

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Jed Pidcock is the patient relations coordinator at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital.

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