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Leading Md. to thrive, not just survive

As the president of an association representing Maryland's long-term care provider community, I have been fortunate to work with many state leaders. I appreciate that Gov. O'Malley brought to Maryland a data-driven focus and political calculus that resulted in significant accomplishments, including in my own industry of health care. I now look forward to working with Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, Lt. Gov.-elect Boyd Rutherford for the betterment of all Marylanders.

During the worst economic times since the Great Depression, we have still been able to ensure that Maryland's primary school system remained the top in the country, avoid increases in college tuition and expand health care to cover hundreds of thousands of middle-class Marylanders and small businesses by enacting an important health care law in 2006 — two years ahead of the Affordable Care Act.

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The overwhelming message at the polls, however, was that Marylanders want more from our elected leaders. Voters said very clearly that they want their state leadership to work together to move Maryland forward. Now that the election is over, our new leaders must begin to focus on governing to thrive, not just survive, in the Old Line State.

Despite the accomplishments we've achieved over the last eight years, our state leadership has often had to govern to survive and not thrive. This required our past leaders to be more data-driven than ever, and to make a series of tough choices in order to create the stability necessary for the state to eventually transition to growth.

Governor-elect Hogan and Lieutenant Governor-elect Rutherford may soon be greeted with a state budget cash balance that is less than expected. Still, when they take office in January, it will be important for them to work with the leadership of the General Assembly –— and a historic number of new legislators — to bring new vigor and boldness to governance in Maryland.

Governing to thrive will require putting in place a talented, energized, diverse cabinet that includes Republicans, Democrats and independents. In an increasingly competitive global economy, it will also mean focusing on the data, figuring out what's working and what's not, and seizing opportunities to move Maryland forward.

We find ourselves at a historic moment where we can make game-changing investments in Maryland's future. For example, in health care, we have an opportunity not to just survive, but to thrive and position Maryland as a national leader.

To do so, we must connect the dots between Maryland's many health care strengths: The hospitals and medical centers in Maryland are among the best for care capacity, teaching, research and trauma care in the world; Maryland boasts 233 skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers with long track records of providing quality and cost-effective care to very ill Marylanders in need; and Maryland has a unique Medicare hospital waiver.

However, in governing to thrive, Maryland's new leaders will also have to confront and resolve what has held us back in health care: Much of the work is still done on paper; computerized systems, when they have been put in place, have often simply not worked to the highest standard; critical health care work flow, such as the process to approve Marylanders in need of Medicaid, is not centralized and is largely still done on paper; and despite our extraordinary health care capacity, relative wealth compared with other states and historic success in expanding health care, we still struggle with dramatic health care disparities.

By better integrating care, embracing innovation, ensuring stable funding, supporting lower cost and higher quality centers of care, our state leadership can help improve the quality of life for Marylanders while bringing down health care costs, creating jobs and strengthening our economy.

To be sure, it will be a challenge to meet these targets with less tax revenue and a less tenured General Assembly. However, by working together and bringing a new sense of boldness to governing in Maryland, our new state leaders can proactively take on challenges like reducing health care costs, while seizing opportunities to positioning Maryland as a leader in the years to come.

Joseph DeMattos Jr. is president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland and teaches leadership in the graduate department of the Erickson School of Aging at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His email is jdemattos@hfam.org.

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