By Senator Bill Frist, M.D.
Dec. 1, 2014 | Nashville Business Journal
Nashville is affectionately and proudly known as the “Silicon Valley of health services.” But the embarrassing truth is if you drop the word “services,” compared to other counties in Tennessee and similar cities nationally we as a community are failing at health.
According to rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the overall health of Tennessee is worse than 41 other states. And within Tennessee, Nashville/Davidson County falls behind 12 others.
Compared to Austin, Charlotte, Cincinnati and Raleigh-Durham, Nashville ranks fourth and has the worst rates of obesity, children living in poverty, premature and injury deaths and violent crime of all five cities.
As a Nashville native and former elected representative, I travel the country, and indeed the world, bragging about Nashville as an emerging, economically grounded, lifestyle-friendly home to creative songwriters and smart health care administrators. But it’s important to understand that this reputation is not sustainable if we do not reverse our poor health status and make Nashville a healthy place to live.
The good news is if we all rally around a clearly defined goal of radically improving our city’s health, we can eliminate our poor standing within five years.
This is a vitally important call to action.
Ironically, our poor health as a city coexists with of one of the largest, far-reaching health care services industries in the nation. Greater Nashville’s health care companies contribute over $30 billion locally and $70 billion globally.
How do you explain the disparity of poor health amidst such a robust national health industry?
In part, it is because the overall health of a community depends on social determinants of health, such as where and how a person lives, not proximity to a hospital or doctor. We know there is uneven distribution of health services in the community, leaving gaps that disproportionately affect the poor.
We have no choice but to make changes. The price of inaction over the next decade — in health care dollars spent and loss of workforce productivity — will cost at least $10 billion dollars, and maybe as much as $20 billion.
Already Nashville has public health champions going about incredible work, but our city is large and our problems complicated. No one organization is capable of the scale of change we need to reset our trajectory.
We must organize as a city-wide collaborative. We must leverage the relationships and dollars we have to attack these problems from multiple angles, focus resources on the neediest areas and ultimately save the city millions of dollars over the next decade.
This is the most important thing we can do for our city and our state right now and for the next ten years. If we want to ensure Nashville remains the place we all love and want to raise our families, we have no choice.
Sen. Bill Frist is a heart and lung transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate majority leader and chairman of the executive board of the health service private equity firm Cressey & Company.
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