Setting priorities

Results of Hamilton County Community Health Needs Assessment presented in town hall meeting Monday

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Anne Blankenship
Sarah Pavelka of Pavelka’s Point Consulting facilitates discussion of the recent Hamilton County Community Health Needs Assessment at a town hall meeting Monday.

A group of area providers and community members gathered Monday night at a town hall meeting to view some insights from the recent Community Health Needs Assessment conducted this spring.

The project, conducted jointly by Hamilton County Public Health and Van Diest Medical Center, was designed to identify key community concerns, to find and analyze community health needs and then prioritize, implement strategies for addressing those needs. About 300 online surveys and paper surveys were were completed and returned.

The session was facilitated by Sarah Pavelka of Pavelka’s Point Consulting. She explained that as part of the Affordable Care Act, a community health needs assessment was recommended every three years. In 2015, priorities identified included expanding rural health care, coordinating health services, improving food and nutrition access and promoting healthy eating, and improbving health screenings.

Pavelka pointed out that many of those priorities had shown improvement, moving the category of “still a problem,” to “somewhat a problem.” She added that county health ranking showed that health screenings, especially flu vaccinations, had improved as had food nutrition access and healthy eating, and family and children services. Additionally, violent crime decreased, preventable hospital stays had declined and the uninsured rate in the county was decreasing.

When it came to perceptions of health, respondents to the survey put mental illness at the top of the list for issues needing attention in communities throughout Hamilton County, at 81.7 percent.

“You’re not alone. Most counties ranked it as Number 1 or 2,” Pavelka said.

In second place was obesity at 60.5 percent, followed by teen health (drinking, abuse, safety and pregnancy) at 55.4 percent. Abuse and violence followed at 54.5 percent. Aging and dementia, and alcohol use tied at 50.4 percent. The remaining issues identified included suicide (41.4 percent), chronic diseases (40.6 percent), poverty (35.7 percent) and family planning and birth control (33.8 percent).

Mental health counseling topped the list of services needing improvement with 77. 4 percent of the respondents mentioning this area. Public awareness of services was another concern with 44.8 percent of respondents. Other areas cited as needing improvement included women’s health services, 51 percent, access to urgent care services, 39.9 percent, cancer services, 39.5 percent, and public transportation, 36 percent.

Pavelka divided the participants up into small groups and asked them to select three priorities. The groups then shared their lists. Once compiled, the participants selected the top three priorities, which were Mental Health services, nutrition and healthy eating/obesity, and awareness of services throughout the county. The groups then gave some input about which agencies could work on each area needing improvement and things that could be done to accomplish the task.

Pavelka said that a final report would be generated in the next few months.

“This isn’t the end, it’s really just the beginning of the next three-year journey,” Pavelka said