Doug Strong, chief executive officer of the University’s Hospitals and Health Centers, spoke to a group of about 100 people on the vital role the University’s health care system plays in bringing both state and nationwide economic growth, at a panel discussion yesterday.

In addition to Strong, panelists discussed the importance of sustaining and innovating the health care system at the talk held in the Michigan Ballroom of the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Ann Arbor.

Strong said the University holds a very strong position in the Ann Arbor community and the medical world, stemming from the fact that the University’s medical centers employ 17,000 practicing staff members. Because of this, Strong said the institution has an immediate responsibility to advance the industry.

“We hope to be national and state leaders in creating the future,” he said. “And for us the future can be a long time, but it also extends to the very next second.”

Strong said University health centers need to focus on creating a unique collaboration between education and training and patient care and research — various aspects of health care that have traditionally operated separately.

“Different people are involved in different things, but we see value in the synergy,” he said.

Strong said the University’s health care apparatus also helps to propagate partnerships with the private sector, citing the new North Campus Research Complex, which he said will help to inspire commercial opportunities.

According to Strong, the University draws in medical talent, patients and students from many geographic areas, which helps bring funding to the community.

“A good analogy for football fans at this point is that the impact on the Ann Arbor area of football weekends is tremendous — a lot of people, a lot of dollars for our community,” he said. “And that’s very analogous to this point (about health care).”

Pam Jones-Sexton, who heads up the professional services group at United Bank and Trust and helped to organize the event, said health care holds the key to lowering unemployment rates within Washtenaw County and across the nation.

“The health care industry in our county is one of the biggest employers, and it’s a great opportunity for job retention and job growth,” she said. “All the economic indicators show that’s where the job growth is going to be over the next several years.”

Sexton said no matter the outcome of the national health care debate, the medical industry will remain a leader in providing employment opportunities.

“And that’s with or without health care reform, so it doesn’t matter what Washington decides to do with that,” she said.

Jean Chenoweth, senior vice president for performance improvement at Thomson Reuters, also spoke on the panel. She said that in the early 1990s, states in the South and West saw the best outcomes in health care, but in recent years the Midwest has become the primary leader in performance levels.

Michigan is the leading state “in having the most top performing hospitals,” she said.

Publicizing the little-known success of Michigan hospitals should be a top priority, Chenoweth added.

“In an economy that’s so weak, and particularly here in Michigan, (few people know) how good the healthcare is in this state — particularly in Southeast Michigan and Ann Arbor,” she said. “It’s our best kept secret and it’s one of our tasks to make that known more broadly across the U.S.”

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