Leaders link health care to economic growth

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A healthier workforce and a healthier economy go hand-in-hand, state and economic leaders say.
On a three-city swing Friday, Gov. Phil Bryant, joined by Mississippi Economic Council President and CEO Blake Wilson and other officials, promoted the “Blueprint Mississippi Health Care: An Economic Driver” initiative.
They highlighted the reports of a Blueprint Mississippi health care study that outlines plans to grow the state’s health care economy.
“It’s the next big thing for Mississippi,” Wilson said. “Health care is the fastest growing industry in the U.S. today. We can either wait for the train to pass us by or we can climb aboard and make a difference. What Mississippi ought to be doing is driving the train and not chasing after the caboose. That opportunity is here today. This is one of the first statewide studies undertaken, if not the first.”
Bryant said the study isn’t meant to collect dust on a shelf but is an action plan to expand the state’s health care industry. Noting that Mississippi also is the most underserved state in terms of physician-per-patient ratio, he and others said growing the health care industry will serve a dual purpose.
“The challenge for us to bring in companies is they look at a state depicted as the most obese, with the highest rate of diabetes and heart disease,” Bryant said. “As companies look at that workforce, they understand a healthy workforce is important to their bottom line. We began looking at a system to improve health care, but not directly as a policy issue – we’ll leave that to policymakers in the future. We wanted to look at health care as an economic driver for those companies and also for the state.”
The study found each physician brings in about $2 million in investment to the community he or she serves. Developing a health care economic development strategy is also broader than just physicians and hospitals. It can touch suppliers, research companies and entrepreneurs.
Bryant said a four-point strategy will be implemented expand the health care economy:
• Workforce development. A healthy, productive population enhances the prospects of business attraction, retention and growth. Strengthening math and science education and training programs will boost the number of Mississippians who can participate in the health care economy.
“It’s about having a healthy workforce but also a medically trained workforce,” Bryant said.
• Quality of life. Accessible affordable health care improves Mississippians’ lives and provides a better quality of place because of availability of quality services and jobs and opportunities.
“We must always remember that quality of life begins with the individual and government cannot provide solutions to all our problems,” he said. “So hopefully this will be a free market-based system that will add jobs and health care opportunities.”
• Business sustainability. Healthier workers will reduce lost time due to illness and will increase productivity, improving Mississippi’s competitiveness, growth and sustainability.
• Creation of economic wealth. Growth of a statewide health care industry cluster and collaboration across the economic sector will contribute jobs and encourage wealth creation.
Wilson said the plan to growth the state’s health care economy is meant to complement, not compete with what is already in place.
“It about how do we drive the economic development end of health care. How do get more pharmaceutical companies here, how do we get more service industries, health care call centers and all that, as well as helping our existing health care institutions look for ways to build on their existing footprints,” he said. “This is an economic study more than a quality of health care, or how to serve the underserved. It doesn’t deal with that. It strictly deals with the economics.”
dennis.seid@journalinc.com