Michigan: Oakland County announces expansion of public healthcare services to tens of thousands of residents (UPDATED)

A handful of readers may have a vague memory of my attending a healthcare forum here in Oakland County, Michigan last November:

HEALTHCARE TOWN HALL: A PLAN FOR OAKLAND COUNTY

Please join us for a Health Care Forum with Andy Meisner. We will be focusing on the issues and proposed solutions for Oakland County.

November 12th, 6:30pm in Room 218 at West Bloomfield High School, 4925 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield

The larger point of the forum was to highlight a plan which Oakland County Treasurer and County Executive candidate Andy Meisner has been working on for a year now, the "Meisner Plan for Oakland County’s Health, Wellness and Happiness”:

When I listen to people in every part of Oakland County, more than anything I hear concerns about people struggling to afford healthcare and prescription drugs. That’s why I’m proposing the “Meisner Plan” to make healthcare and prescription drugs more affordable and accessible in Oakland County.

...The next element of my plan is making healthcare more affordable and accessible for Oakland County residents. Building on the strength of the Oakland County Health Department, we will provide primary health care for our uninsured and underinsured residents through a public-private partnership with local health providers, hospitals and medical schools. This care will be provided at a regional network of Oakland County Health and Wellness Centers located strategically across Oakland County to help our families who are sick get the care that they need and deserve in the right treatment setting, instead of in hospital emergency rooms. This will mean healthcare that is more affordable and accessible for all. By building a countywide network of Oakland County Health and Wellness Centers, we can also make sure that every Oakland County resident receives the care they need close to home. Federal dollars are available to support this network, and these are dollars we have left on the table for no good reason. That must and will change with this plan.

...The budget for this network will come from a range of sources, including county, state and federal government, the private sector, foundations and individuals. The lion’s share of funding will come from federal supports for Community Health Centers, including the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Medicaid, Federal Section 330 Grant Funds which specifically target funding at uninsured and underinsured populations, and the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF). Specific three-year budgets for this strategy are in process to make sure that this effort maintains Oakland County’s commitment to budget discipline, and will be released on our website in the coming months.

It's an excellent plan, and one which I was proud to help participate in a forum to discuss and explain.

So why am I writing about it today? Simple: Earlier today this news broke locally:

Oakland County to expand, integrate health services for vulnerable residents

Oakland County will try a new approach to providing health services to its un- and underinsured residents.

The plan, called Oakland Health 360, calls for consolidating more services at the county’s two health centers, in Southfield and Pontiac. Those will include a range of health services, including primary care, family planning, dental, and mental health services.

The plan will also provide access to social services, including early childhood education and emergency services such as energy, food and housing assistance.

The county will implement the plan with two partners, Honor Community Health and Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency. The plan is to roll it out in four phases over three years, said Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter.

Current Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, who was appointed last summer to fill out the last year and a half of L. Brooks Patterson's term, is also running for a full 4-year term this November...against Andy Meisner.

I'm not writing this as an endorsement of Meisner, but I do think people should know that he's been working on a proposal extremely similar to the one announced today for a solid year, only to have the rug effectively yanked out from under him by his primary political opponent. It's possible that Coulter has also been planning something along these lines as well, but if so this is the first I've heard about it. On the other hand, Coulter had previously endorsed Meisner before deciding to run against him, so that seems pretty unlikely.

UPDATE: I've been contacted by County Executive Dave Coulter, who noted that he has a healthcare background himself (he was once the Director of External Relations for the Children's Foundation of Michigan, as well as the Executive Director of the Michigan AIDS Fund) and that he's long wanted to expand services in Oakland County's public clinics. He states that he never knew the details of Andy Meisner's proposal prior to announcing his.

Coulter also pointed me towards this Detroit Free Press article in which there's Meisner and the head of Honor Health (one of the partners in the newly-announced proposal) has a different recollection of her conversations with Meisner:

[Coulter's] only announced opponent in the Democratic primary is Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner, who Monday afternoon sent a news release saying he applauded the county's new leadership "for adopting his health plan."

In a telephone interview, Meisner said, "I like it so much that I wrote it," adding that elements of the plan had been on his campaign website since March, when he announced his candidacy for the seat still occupied then by Patterson.

In a news release sent to reporters Monday, Meisner said that he'd "met on multiple occasions with one of the partners in the plan, Honor Health, sharing details of his plan and giving them the idea for the partnership."

Reached Monday night, the CEO of Honor Community Health, Debra Brinson, recalled their conversations differently.

"I don't think it's accurate for Andy to say we've talked about his plan. We've had multiple meetings with Andy, specifically on space," as Honor Community Health sought larger quarters for some of its clinics, Brinson said.

As for the larger goal of expanding services, "We've actually had these discussions with the county going back a number of years," Brinson said 

"I think I've had three meetings with Andy, the last one just before the holidays," she said, but added that she'd also had multiple meetings "with Dave Coulter and the board of commissioners and with Brooks Patterson."

"The great thing about this is, it's been everybody's idea for some time, trying to make sure that people have greater access to health care and other services," Brinson said.

This sounds like a bit of a Rashomon situation, with the same development being honestly remembered differently by several of the parties involved. I really should have presented this announcement purely as a positive public health expansion development as opposed to focusing on the political side of it, especially given my own peripheral involvement. In any event, it sounds like I owe Executive Coulter an apology for assuming he deliberately co-opted Meisner's plan.

Political campaigning aside, I certainly hope the proposal works out, because it's a great idea--since Republicans are blocking any progress on healthcare improvements at the federal and state levels, Oakland County might as well take control of our own destiny. We have around 1.3 million residents, after all, which is a larger population than some states.