Monday, August 23, 2010

Legislators like what they see during tour of Owensboro

By Rich Suwanski, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, August 19, 2010 12:28 AM CDT
Several legislators on the General Assembly's Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare toured Owensboro and then heard presentations from four key organizations Wednesday afternoon at Wendell Foster's Campus for Developmental Disabilities.

The event provided legislators with a close-up look at progress with high-profile building projects -- the downtown riverfront and Owensboro Medical Health System's new hospital on Pleasant Valley Road.

The tour also opened some eyes about a facility that has been an Owensboro institution for decades -- the Wendell Foster Campus.

"I live only 125 miles from here and I didn't know the facility was here," said Sen. Joey Pendleton of Hopkinsville. "Touring this facility, it's heartwarming to see the compassion for people who can't take care of themselves."

Committee co-chairman Rep. Tom Burch of Louisville said Wendell Foster's is "one of the best-kept secrets we have in the state with the facility and the delivery of services."

"I hope the whole state will know about it and can duplicate it."

Rep. Jim Glenn of Owens-boro said the committee will take the information it received during presentations from the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, Green River District Health Department, Wendell Foster's and OMHS and "be better informed with the issues" involving upcoming legislation.

"I'm extremely excited about what's going on in Owensboro," said committee co-chairwoman Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville. "We got a well-rounded view (of the city) and we'd like to come back when the riverfront is finished."

Jody Wassmer, chamber president, said the event went over well.

"The tour was a slam dunk in showing Frankfort decision-makers all the momentum Owensboro has right now," Wassmer said. "There is a buzz around the state about the positive and bold steps Owensboro has taken to improve itself."

When Wassmer addressed the committee, he emphasized the joint city-county efforts that helped secure funding for the riverfront project, as well as working with Indiana on the interstate corridor connector between I-64 and I-65.

Denton asked about the cooperation between city and county and wondered if it was a merged government. There were some chuckles in the audience of about 30. Wassmer then explained to the committee the failed merger attempt.

Terry Brownson, Wendell Foster's executive director, talked about the changes in care over the years at facilities like Wendell Foster's, moving from places that merely housed people with disabilities to places that provide a variety of services, including independent living, assistive technology and work training for residents.

Brownson asked the committee to consider ways to help with prevention and early intervention programs because pre-term and low-birthweight babies can lead to disabilities.

"The earlier we can address the issue in the developmental period, the earlier we can help," he said. "And that will save the commonwealth money in the long run."

Deborah Fillman, public health director at the Green River District Health Department, said some of her organization's greatest concerns include chronic disease like diabetes, obesity and heart disease, high teen birth rates, high smoking prevalence and high cancer deaths compared to the rest of the country.

Jeff Barber, OMHS president and CEO, explained the hospital's role, programs and services in its 11-county service area, as well as highlighting future challenges, including the stress placed on the Medicaid program and cost containment issues as a result of health care reform's expanded roles, and the worsening physician shortage facing the country.

The committee also passed a resolution honoring Glenn's late wife, Cornelia, who died in June. She was an educator and served on several boards of directors.