Working together for community health improvement (Opinion)
Responding to unique health concerns in the Lake Tahoe region takes persistence and collaboration to improve the health of our community.
When Barton Health surveyed local residents in its 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment, it was clear the most pressing health concerns in our area continue to be mental health, substance abuse and access to care. These were the same top-three issues found in previous CHNA surveys from 2012 and 2015, showing just how deeply rooted and prevalent these issues are.
Barton and regional health and social service providers have galvanized around these issues, and have been working cooperatively to improve mental health, substance abuse and access to medical care and services.
By working together, Barton and fellow nonprofit organizations and care provider partners have made progress to address the most pressing health needs of our community. As Community Health Improvement Week concludes, I wanted to share the outstanding work put forth this last year confronting these issues:
Addressing mental and behavioral health:
• The Barton Foundation has provided $50,000 in annual grant funding to support local organizations that help address health issues identified in the CHNA, including mental and behavioral health.
• Barton and the Behavioral Health Network, an alliance of local social service providers, established the UniteUs platform, which helps people connect with care providers and has resulted in hundreds of patient referrals since launching in 2019.
• By virtually connecting patients with local mental health providers, Barton is helping patients quickly and safely access care through a $100,000 telehealth expansion project.
• Physicians and medical experts with Barton Health share insight at free community wellness lectures and in health and wellness articles that educate and empower community members to know the signs, learn how and when to seek help, and know how to reach out to others who might be in crisis.
• Barton is proud to host the annual Suicide Awareness Walk with our partners at the Suicide Prevention Network to help reduce stigma while raising awareness of this important topic.
Providing care for substance abuse:
• Barton established a Medication Assisted Treatment Program to address opioid use disorder and has treated over 100 patients since its inception in 2019. This federally-funded treatment program removes travel barriers for patients and their families seeking treatment for narcotics dependency.
• Thousands of dollars in grant funding through the Barton Foundation has supported parent and educator resources to take on youth substance abuse issues at South Tahoe Middle School, South Tahoe High School, and Tallac High School, including a text alert platform to help keep parents of middle and high school students informed about local drug trends.
• Barton participates in the annual Drug Store Project, educating sixth grade students on the risks of substance use.
• Narcan, a life-saving drug for opioid overdose, has been distributed to first responders and community members in partnership with Barton and the California Hub & Spoke System program.
• By hosting semi-annual meetings with community pharmacists, we are working collaboratively to ensure safe and proper dispensing of pharmaceuticals.
• Partnership with the South Tahoe Police Department to help community members safely dispose of pharmaceuticals through the Drug Take Back program.
• Barton Family Medicine care provider, Kelly Vial, FNP, has presented at schools and community events to address the issue of youth vaping.
Expanding safe access to care:
• Barton’s response to COVID-19 will be ongoing, and we are prepared to keep medical care safe and available for the community, including opening offsite screening and testing facilities, and increasing virtual access to care providers.
• Barton Health has opened new medical offices, Barton Audiology and Barton Neurology that offer new and expanded services to the area.
• Investments in medical imaging equipment give patients access to the state-of-the-art MRI and CT-scans, without having to travel long distances.
• Working with partners to improve access to medical services, Barton’s Community Health Fair at Bjiou Elementary School provided information and free services including flu shots, blood pressure checks, enrollment assistance for health insurance through Covered California, CPR training and nutrition guidance.
• All Barton Health primary care offices now offer a 24-hour nurse line for free, around-the-clock clinical advice.
• Barton established same-day orthopedic appointments at our offices in Carson City and South Lake Tahoe to help patients receive expert care for urgent orthopedic needs.
• Free, bilingual enrollment counseling is available to navigate the registration process for the Covered California and Nevada HealthLink healthcare exchanges.
As a nonprofit healthcare system, Barton considers community health and collaboration a pillar of our organization, and an important aspect of our commitment to helping improve the well-being of all.
We are stronger together, and we will continue partnership efforts to serve this region and provide patients with the care they need. We will be collecting input from residents in the next Community Health Needs Assessment in 2021, and you can visit bartonhealth.org/communityhealth to learn more about our upcoming survey.
Chris Proctor is the director of community benefit with Barton Health.
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