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Les Zwirn, executive director of Better Healthcare for Indiana, talked about his group’s progress on promoting community collaborations to improve health and reduce the cost of care in cities around Indiana. BHI is hosting its third health care summit of Indiana community leaders today at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis.

IBJ: Better Healthcare for Indiana got going about three years ago to promote community-based health improvement efforts. Give us a status report on how that’s going.

A: There is energy and leadership in various communities around the state [Logansport, Bloomington, Lafayette, etc.] to begin to create collaborations and reach out to people to create big change in health care. The one in Terre Haute is being led by the Chamber [of Commerce] and the business community and it has real traction. AET Corp. is providing leadership through [human resources director] Ken Baker. They believe that no employer is an island, and they believe that they have to be concerned with the health of the entire community, not just their employees, and also they believe they’re at the end of the road with single-employer initiatives like cost shifting, benefits changes or wellness. Those things can only go so far, and they think they’ve gone about as far as they can go.

IBJ: BHI is promoting collaboration among hospitals, doctors and local leaders in government, religion and business. Why is the business community so key to your efforts?

A: We believe that business leadership is essential for the following reasons: One, they’re more entrepreneurial. And that’s critical to this, to think creatively. Number two [is] the realization that unless employers band together, they’re not going to have a big impact. They’re just going to be operating in the narrow, incremental sphere, that maybe, maybe, they’ll keep their [health benefits cost] increases to 6 [percent]-8 percent. They have an untapped potential if they band together to exert influence on local providers and insurers. And they have the standing in the community to provide leadership.

IBJ: How has the new health reform law affected BHI’s local community efforts?

A: The political climate is poisonous. I think it’s cast a pall on local collaboration. It has not been helpful. People need to not focus on what was done in Washington. They need to focus on building trust in their local communities and crossing those lines, and not pay attention to the polarized debate, because it doesn’t help communities. I think people at the local level know they need to move forward. Regardless of where you are politically with regard to health care, whether you like it or don’t like it, that should be argued in Washington. But at the local level, you have to collaborate to make this work.

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