Health agencies launch initiative at KWC

By Rich Suwanski
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Local health organizations unveiled an initiative Tuesday to address the area’s health concerns in a more-targeted fashion, with comprehensive data gathered from various sources and launched on Owensboro Medical Health System’s website.

The Green River District Health Department, the Green River Area Development District and OMHS were involved in the presentation at Kentucky Wesleyan College. The initiative will include at least two forums in early 2012, a survey, analysis of information and a resulting community health improvement plan.

The goal is for government agencies, organizations, schools and the faith-based community, among others, to create programs, like OMHS’ “Get Movin’ Challenge,” a team-oriented exercise competition, push for policy change, such as Owensboro’s smoking ordinance, or gear health fairs to specific neighborhoods where a serious issue exists. Tuesday’s speakers said the plans could take a variety of shapes with action beginning perhaps as soon as the second half of 2012.

“A health needs assessment is a way of measuring how well we’re doing or not doing,” OMHS President and CEO Jeff Barber said. “It can help tell us what we need to do more of, or less of. It can help point us in the right direction and give us measurable feedback so that we can manage what we can measure.”
Much is still up in the air now, such as the forum dates and survey questions. When the survey is ready, it will likely be available online, according to Deborah Fillman, the public health director with GRDHD. The Kentucky Appalachia Public Health Training Center through the University of Kentucky College of Public Health will conduct the survey in conjunction with the health department.

However, the OMHS Community Health Needs Assessment is available online at
. Healthy Communities Institute of Berkeley, Calif., organized volumes of information into multiple categories on the site, including meters to gauge the level of seriousness for each issue compared to other counties.

In the Community Health Needs Assessment, Daviess County’s indicators include health, economy, education, environment, government and politics, public safety, social environment and transportation. Each indicator has multiple sub-categories.

The health indicator, for example, has 17 sub-categories, such as access to health services, cancer, diabetes, family planning, heart disease and stroke and so on. Each sub-category is broken down even further. For example, under cancer, the age-adjusted death rate due to lung cancer is in the “red,” or dangerous area, with 75.6 deaths per 100,000 population during the 2003-07 measurement period.

“That will give us a guide of priority areas so that we can either plan a program, or implement activities and strategies,” said Debbie Zuerner Johnson, OMHS’ community outreach manager. “Take respiratory issues, for example. Do we have adequate support groups? Do we have advocacy groups? Do we have appropriate prevention activities in place to move the bar?

“This is a serious area for us, and we don’t have them in place.”

Johnson said the goal is to help people improve their health either by prevention or so that they don’t return to the hospital after being released following an illness. The Ursuline sisters at Mount St. Joseph, for example, are developing an exercise-nutrition program to keep themselves as healthy as possible, stay out of the hospital and minimize the amount of medication they’re on.

“Ultimately, an individual’s health is up to each person, but collectively if we change the culture and the thinking, we can be a healthier community,” Johnson said.

Fillman said action can be swift or take time, depending on the issue addressed. For example, a company may choose to enact a policy of banning smoking at a worksite. A city ordinance, however, may take longer to put into place.

But once the plans are formed, community participation is necessary for health to improve, Johnson said.

“Part of the reason people may not partake is they don’t believe it impacts them,” Johnson said. “If you don’t have diabetes issues or respiratory issues, you don’t believe it relates to you.

“Stroke with African-American men is high, and that’s an area we have to take a closer look at. What are we doing? What more can we do to actually make a difference?”

The health care reform act requires hospitals to do a needs assessment every three years. Information on the website, however, will be updated as new data comes in.

“We’re not just doing this because health care reform is making us do it,” Barber said. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”

He said collaboration among local organizations, leaders and individuals will bring about better results.

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