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February 28, 2013
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Local health assessment finds health gaps

Analysis of the Community Health Needs Assessment indicated that substance abuse, limited health care access and mental health are the top three medical issues in the South Shore, according to a presentation by Barton Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Clint Purvance.

Barton Memorial Hospital posted the assessment online in September 2012 as a way to identify health gaps throughout South Lake Tahoe and portions of El Dorado and Douglas counties. The survey, which compiled information from existing county records and 400 area participants, compared South Shore health statistics to those at national and state levels.

In some instances, Tahoe fell far behind those regional or national norms.

Take substance abuse in South Lake Tahoe, which is four times higher than the national average. The Community Health Needs Assessment found that there were more drug-induced deaths per capita in the Barton service area than in either California or the U.S. And almost 29 percent of people in the survey area binge drink compared to 16.7 percent nationally.

"As an emergency physician, I can tell you we've swung too far in the treatment of pain with narcotics as a community. So that's a community problem, it's not just a prescriber problem. We need to swing back to a little bit more reasonable prescribing," Purvance said at last week's City Council meeting.

While the survey didn't record which drugs were most commonly used, focus group participants voiced concerns with illicit prescription drugs, marijuana, heroin, opiates and synthetic drugs, according to Barton Director of Public Relations and Marketing Monica Sciuto.

In May, Barton will go live with a new electronic medical record called EPIC that will keep track of which patients regularly take narcotics and where they file their prescriptions. That data, combined with more education and outreach programs, might help shrink drug use, Purvance said.

Another issue that emerged was access to health services. About 26 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 64 lacked health insurance in the South Shore compared to California's 20.9 percent and the country's 14.9 percent. About 40 percent of the people surveyed said they had difficulty accessing healthcare in the past year.

Purvance said the solution lies in helping enroll patients in county and state programs like Medical. And once Barton completes the $1.5 million expansion of the Community Clinic, doctors will be able to serve 4,000 additional patients per year, Sciuto said.

Barton's Community Advisory Committee also ranked mental health as a priority based on the issue's potential consequences and the feasibility of a solution. While the percentage of South Shore people with fair or poor mental health is lower than the national rate, the number of suicides per capita is higher.

Purvance said Barton brought on a new psychiatrist last year to buffer mental health services. The hospital has also contracted with five additional psychiatrists who help patients via the telemedicine program, Sciuto said.

The news isn't all gloomy though. The South Shore consistently outshone California, Nevada and the U.S. when it came to nutrition status, weight status and physical activity.

About 48 percent of people in the survey area participated in vigorous physical activity compared to 34.8 percent in the U.S. The assessment found that only 15.2 percent of the area's individuals were obese, almost half the national average.

"It's great data for nonprofits, for other community providers that are looking to get some local data on health issues in our community," Barton Community Outreach Coordinator Leanne Wagoner said last week.

To read the full report online, visit http://tinyurl.com/c4gcqwl.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 28, 2013 09:19PM Published Feb 28, 2013 09:18PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.