Officials from 11 public health departments in the Kansas City area will meet this week to discuss selling their services to health plans.
The departments could contract to provide immunizations and other preventive health services to managed-care enrollees, said Ross Marine, president of the Metropolitan Official Agencies of the Kansas City Area.
Discussions now are exploratory, but Mr. Marine said he hopes they'll result in proposals for consideration at the group's next board meeting, tentatively scheduled for early October.
"We anticipate that managed-care organizations might look to public health departments as preventive medicine experts," said Mr. Marine, director of the Jackson County (Mo.) Health Department. He also is administrator of 88-bed Truman Medical Center-East, a publicly supported hospital in Kansas City, Mo., that manages the health department.
His group involves the health departments of Independence, Mo.; Kansas City, Mo.; North Kansas City, Mo.; the Missouri counties of Cass, Clay, Jackson, Platte and Ray; and the Kansas counties of Johnson, Leavenworth and Wyandotte.
Their talks come as public health officials nationwide are wondering where their agencies fit in the changing healthcare system. Many are exploring ventures with private hospitals to better coordinate preventive healthcare in their communities.
For example, Jackson County and Truman-East opened a public health clinic last month in a building owned by 250-bed Saint Joseph Health Center of Kansas City, Mo.
Saint Joseph closed its outpatient clinic in Grandview, Mo., amid criticism in 1992. It ran the clinic under an agreement with the state, forged in 1977 when Saint Joseph moved from the inner city to the border of wealthy Johnson County. Funding for the clinic under the federal Hill-Burton construction aid program ran out in 1991, and it lost $500,000 to $750,000 a year, said Mike Abell, Saint Joseph's chief executive officer.
Earlier this year, Saint Joseph agreed to lease the shuttered building to the health department for five years. Saint Joseph also will run wellness programs at the clinic. Similar partnerships are possible, Mr. Abell said.
"This really offers us an opportunity to show that we want to be a community partner," he said.
Truman-East and the health department will offer primary care, cancer screenings, immunizations and nutritional support programs. About 8,000 people are expected to use clinic programs each year. The health department expects to spend about $30,000 to $40,000 annually for staff, building and other costs, Mr. Marine said.
Other providers also are involved. Research Mental Health Services, part of the Health Midwest system, will run a mental health screening program; while the University of Missouri-Kansas City will supply primary-care residents.