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Survival Strategies for Michigan's Health Care Safety Net Providers

Authors

  • Peter D. Jacobson,

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    • Address correspondence to Peter D. Jacobson, J.D., M.P.H., University of Michigan School of Public Health 109 Observatory, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029. Vanessa Dalton, M.D., M.P.H., is with University of Michigan Medical Center. Julie Berson-Grand, M.P.H., is with University of Michigan School of Public Health. Carol S. Weisman, Ph.D., is with Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

  • Vanessa K. Dalton,

  • Julie Berson-Grand,

  • Carol S. Weisman


Abstract

Objective. To understand key adaptive strategies considered by health care safety net organizations serving uninsured and underinsured populations in Michigan.

Data Sources/Study Setting. Primary data collected through interviews at community-based free clinics, family planning clinics, local public health departments, and Federally Qualified Health Centers from 2002 to 2003.

Research Design. In each of six service areas in Michigan, we conducted a multiple-site case study of the four organizations noted above. We conducted interviews with the administrator, the medical or clinical director, the financial or marketing director, and a member of the board of directors. We interviewed 74 respondents at 20 organizations.

Principal Findings. Organizations perceive that unmet need is expanding faster than organizational capacity; organizations are unable to keep up with demand. Other threats to survival include a sicker patient population and difficulty in retaining staff (particularly nurses). Most clinics are adopting explicit business strategies to survive. To maintain financial viability, clinics are: considering or implementing fees; recruiting insured patients; expanding fundraising activities; reducing services; or turning away patients. Collaborative strategies, such as partnerships with hospitals, have been difficult to implement. Clinics are struggling with how to define their mission given the environment and threats to survival.

Conclusions. Adaptive strategies remain a work in progress, but will not be sufficient to respond to increasing service demands. Increased federal funding, or, ideally, a national health insurance program, may be the only viable option for expanding organizational capacity.

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