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County supervisor's vision for healthier community

Joe Simitian talks about goals for improving Valley Medical Center

Improving county health services is at the top of the list for Mountain View's new representative on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

Joe Simitian, who represents the county's fifth district and is the vice-chair of the county's Health and Hospitals Committee, told the Voice that with the unrolling of the Affordable Care Act, the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is going to have to make some major changes and work harder to attract patients.

"Our health and hospital system will have to be more competitive in the delivery of health care," Simitian said.

That's because, under Obamacare, low-income individuals who once had only one choice for their health care -- the county's hospital and health care network -- may now take their business elsewhere.

On top of that, the new health care rules will reward hospitals and doctors for delivering quality care and keeping patients healthy.

"Historically, the county was the economic beneficiary of more people getting sick," Simitian said during a roundtable discussion with the Voice's editorial department. "But now, the notion is to reward wellness. How do you make that work economically?"

It's something new for the county health department to consider, but Simitian has some ideas.

He said he wants to see more primary care doctors working for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Getting people in to see a primary care physician on a regular basis will help keep them from getting seriously ill, which will keep costs down while bringing in money from the federal government. Under the new health care law, hospitals and clinics will be rewarded for keeping people healthy.

The supervisor also wants to bring electronic medical records to Valley Medical, which will help ensure that doctors do not waste time duplicating work already done by other doctors, while also helping to avoid costly -- and sometimes damaging -- mistakes. "It's a huge issue," he said.

Improving and coordinating the county's mental health and substance abuse programs is also high on the list for Simitian. "A lot of people who have substance abuse issues have mental health issues, and a lot of people who have mental heath issues have substance abuse issues," he said. "You want those services to be integrated."

Simitian wants to transform Valley Medical into an organization that can compete with privately owned health care companies -- and perhaps even transform the way people perceive the organization.

Currently, Valley Medical is seen as a place for the "medically indigent," he said. But that could change. In any case, he said he believes the system is poised for improvement.

"I think it will be a healthy development for our county," Simitian said.

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