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Public and private health care services could run more efficiently if the entire community system is connected via one network, according to a consultant hired by Fairfax County.

“You are doing high-quality programs in pockets all over, but you have the ability to bring those pockets together into an integrated system,” said Pat Terrell of Health Management Associates.

Initially, the idea would be to improve the efficiency of the county’s health care safety net for people who receive Medicaid or are uninsured, but over time the system could benefit people with traditional insurance, as well, according to Terrell.

Similar in concept to what the county has done with programs serving people who are homeless, the idea is to better coordinate services provided to the target population by the county, private sector and nonprofits.

Terrell said this is something the private hospital systems are very interested in because it can help reduce emergency room costs.

“Every provider we talked to was very clearly in favor of being part of an integrated approach because it is in their business interest to do so,” she said.

This process would allow the opportunity to identify areas of duplication as well as unmet needs.

The concept also envisions new IT infrastructure that helps track patients throughout the community system. “Counties are playing more and more of a pivotal role in creating a delivery system,” Terrell said.

The Health Management Associates report also points out several areas where the county is not drawing down all of the available federal matching funds. The county would need state approval in order to draw down some of the matching funds.

County Executive Ed Long said this is something he wants county staff to look into immediately.

Deputy County Executive Pat Harrison said the staff position focusing on federal health care grant funds was cut from the budget years ago, so current staff have limited availability to focus on drawing down grants.

However, the Board of Supervisors rejected Harrison’s request to add three staff positions to work on developing the new network, one of which would be focused on obtaining grant funding.

Board members said they want more information about the feasibility of the consultant’s recommendations before moving forward to the next steps.