Mental health, substance abuse top health concerns | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Mental health, substance abuse top health concerns

Molly Hucklebridge
Special to the Tribune

The community has undergone a complete physical and the results are in. Based on the 2015 Community Health Needs Assessment, mental health and substance abuse remain top health concerns in the area.

Barton Health conducted its second Community Health Needs Assessment to identify unmet needs within the community. After identifying these needs, Barton will work with representatives from organizations who provide services for the medically underserved to offer recommendations and a collaborative action plan focused on positively impacting the community's health.

"The Assessments helps identify health gaps and areas of greatest concern," says Mindi Befu, Barton Health's Director of Public Relations and Marketing. "As a healthcare leader in the area, this helps Barton Health prioritize what areas need additional resources and where we can have the biggest impact on our community's health."

The Community Health Needs Assessment is a follow-up to a similar study completed in 2012. Information was collected in early 2015 from community members, health professionals, and national census data in Barton Health's service area: northern Alpine County, Douglas County, and eastern El Dorado County.

The Assessment identified eleven areas of opportunity to address significant health needs in the region. In comparison with state and national rates, health issues prominent on the South Shore included access to healthcare services, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, heart disease & stroke, infant health, injury and violence, mental health, nutrition and weight, oral health, substance abuse, and tobacco use.

The Community Health Action Committee prioritized the top three categories based on scope, severity, and the community's ability to make an impact. The priorities identified, in order, were mental health, substance abuse, and access to healthcare services.

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The three priorities are the same as the 2012 Assessment, however, shifts occurred in the specifics within each category.

"Access to healthcare was our number one priority in 2012," say Dr. Clint Purvance, Barton Health's Chief Medical Officer. "With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and more community members enrolled in a healthcare plan, the number of uninsured has greatly decreased. We are now focusing our efforts on accommodating a larger pool of insured patients by increasing the number of medical providers and service lines available."

The Assessment showed the ratio of primary care doctors to patients in the region is less than the California or US proportion. In the past year, 20 percent of patients had difficulty finding a physician and 25 percent struggled to schedule a physician visit. More than 25 percent of survey responders reported not having a specific source for ongoing care.

Responders also indicated mental health as a "major problem." Nearly 30 percent of responders showed signs of chronic depression for more than two years and only half have been diagnosed with depression. Suicide rates are above the state and national average, and seventeen percent reported experiencing emotional abuse in the past or present.

Substance abuse is an on-going problem and ranked as the number one "major problem" by the Online Key Informant Survey. Deaths from liver disease and drug use increased from the 2012 Assessment and remain above California and national levels. One third of responders reported being excessive drinkers and seven percent admitted to drinking and driving within the past month. Only five percent had sought help for an alcohol or drug problem.

The Assessment also revealed positive health outcomes in the region. The majority of survey responders met physical activity guidelines and 41 percent of adults and 72 percent of children identified as a "healthy weight," with a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9, and less adults and children were overweight or obese compared to California, Nevada, or national levels. Violent crime and homicide rates were both low, and teen pregnancy rates were half the national average.

In the coming months, Barton Health will develop a three year action plan detailing how community agencies and the health system will address the health needs for the region. The action plan will reflect responses and data gathered from the 2015 Assessment and Community Health Action Committee. View the 2015 Community Health Needs Assessment results and summary at bartonhealth.org/communityhealth.

The Community Health Needs Assessment is conducted on behalf of Barton Health by a third party. The Affordable Care Act requires all non-profit hospitals conduct a health assessment and action plan every three years. Survey participants were selected randomly and participate in a confidential 20 to 25 minute questionnaire on their landline or cell phone.

Formally the Community Advisory Committee, the Community Health Action Committee is comprised of community leaders, elected officials, clinicians, Barton Health staff, and private and non-profit stakeholders. They act as an advisory committee to Barton Health's Board of Directors regarding pertinent community health issues facing the community.

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