Caring for the Community
Getting and staying healthy takes a lot of work. For some area residents, it’s more than just planning healthy meals and fitting in the recommended daily exercise. Unemployment, lack of transportation, lack of financial stability and more can make it nearly impossible for some to access the health care they need to stay healthy. Dean & St. Mary’s Community Relations Specialist Lisa Bell sees the needs of these vulnerable residents first-hand.
“Many families living in Dane County lack the basic resources they need to access quality health care,” says Bell. “From lacking the financial resources to pay for expensive medications to being unable to physically go to necessary doctor’s appointments, many factors come into play.” The burden of care falls to all of us and local hospitals, clinics and non-profit groups are stepping up to improve community health for everyone living in Dane County.
What is community health?
The term “community health” generally references the overall health of people who live in a specific geographic area or other defined community. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created a Division of Community Health as a way to help Americans prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Through coordinated efforts across the country, local public health departments, hospitals and community groups are bringing sharper focus to these chronic diseases as a way to both improve quality of life for those living with chronic conditions, as well as prevent more people from developing those conditions.
Why does community health matter?
“By looking at the needs of our community as a whole, it’s easier to understand where the greatest needs lie,” says Bell. “And once we know what is needed, it is easier to build a plan to help those who need us the most.”
A community approach allows organizations to partner with each other to provide a greater impact than individuals working alone. When it comes to needed health changes or services, understanding the health of the overall community helps organizations better partner with each other to leverage their existing resources. For example, if research and health data show a community has a significant percentage of lower income residents struggling to control their diabetes, health care organizations can partner with local grocers, food banks and community groups to provide more education and access to lower cost health foods.
Why is community health measured?
First and foremost, community health is measured to provide government agencies and health care organizations a better understanding of the health needs of residents and patients. Locally, the State of Wisconsin and the CDC require local public health departments to measure and track the health needs of their communities. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act requires non-profit hospitals to participate in a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) at least every three years to maintain their federal tax-exempt status. While these measurements are mandated, local health care organizations find immense value in the information these assessments provide.
“Truly, the CHNA helps local health organizations better determine the needs of our community,” says Bell. “We use the information collected as a roadmap for planning, prioritizing and implementing services that provide the most benefit to our community.”
How is community health measured?
In Dane County, a special council called the Healthy Dane Collaborative (HDC) conducts the CHNA every three years. In addition to Public Health Madison and Dane County, HDC members include Dean & St. Mary’s Hospital, UW Health, UnityPoint Health – Meriter, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin and Stoughton Hospital.
To complete the assessment, Collaborative members combine area health statistics with community feedback gathered through surveys and focus groups. The resulting information helps determine Dane County’s greatest and most pressing health needs. Health priorities are set and each hospital commits to focusing on the priorities they can a most positively affect.
What health needs will Dean & St. Mary’s focus on?
For the 2016-2018 CHNA periods, Dean & St. Mary’s will concentrate on the following three Dane County health needs:
• Mental Health, particularly suicide reduction in Dane County.
• Chronic Disease, particularly hypertension, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
• Maternal Child Health, which improves the lives and health of mothers and children in various ways
What is Dean & St. Mary’s doing to improve the health of Dane County residents?
Dean & St. Mary’s is always focused on the needs of the community. Programs like the BSP Free Clinic, St. Mary’s Parish Nurses and many others help staff, doctors and nurses deliver care to our area’s underserved residents.
“We realized that in addition to the services and support we already provide more help is needed,” says Bell. “We know that to make a significant impact on Dane County’s health priorities, we need to create lasting partnerships and that local non-profits would need additional funding.”
To help, Dean & St. Mary’s launched the Helping to Improve the Health of Dane County grant program. Over the course of the next three years, this grant will provide up to $450,000 in total funding to local non-profit organizations focused on improving health in the priority areas of mental health, chronic disease and maternal child health.
Dean & St. Mary’s received a total of 24 proposals seeking funding through the Helping to Improve the Health of Dane County. A review panel of six SSM Health members (representing Dean Clinics, St. Mary’s Hospital, Dean Health Plan and St. Mary’s Foundation) and three highly respected community members evaluated each proposal to determine which proposals would receive funding through the program.
Earlier this month, Dean & St. Mary’s announced the winners of the first year of funding support:
• Second Harvest Food Bank – Funding will benefit the Diabetes Wellness Program, a nine-month effort that will help at least 200 people better control their disease. The program includes distribution of food boxes especially packaged for those coping with diabetes. Second Harvest plans to expand the program into Rock and Sauk counties during the program’s second and third year of operation.
• Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation – The grant will support an in-home smoking cessation program for pregnant women – that will continue six months after they deliver their babies – as well as provide services for adults in their support networks. This program will also be available to Rock and Sauk counties in its second and third year.
• Catholic Charities – Focusing on youth suicide prevention in Wisconsin, the grant will fund a program to bring mental health services to rural school age children in Deerfield and Marshall.
• Rebalanced Life Wellness Association – By funding mentorship and education, the grant will help high-risk African American men increase physical activity, learn about healthy eating and nutrition, and promote volunteerism and social support.
“By working together, we know we can make a tangible difference in the health and lives of our friends and neighbors,” says Bell. “We are excited to get to work with these partners – and others – in empowering local residents to begin living healthier lifestyles.”
In addition to financial support, Dean & St. Mary’s will provide an annual review as part of its active partnership with these four organizations.