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Fort HealthCare community assessment is roadmap to wellness

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On a regular basis, Fort HealthCare engages in a comprehensive survey of area households to determine the health related needs and behaviors of residents. In the past, the community health assessment was accomplished by mailing questionnaires to five thousand area households. Respondents were asked to return completed questionnaires by mail. The results have helped Fort HealthCare develop programs and services that addressed specific needs as described by survey participants such as greater access to cardiology and oncology services, as well as new educational offerings and wellness classes. 

This year, the nature of the community health assessment was modified with an eye toward President Obama’s sweeping healthcare reform legislation, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The legislation contains requirements that non-profit, charitable hospitals like Fort HealthCare must complete a comprehensive community health assessment at least every three years. And, the hospitals must adopt an implementation strategy to address identified needs.
Leadership at Fort HealthCare has already made significant progress in this regard. In association with the survey research experts at Applied PhD Research, a comprehensive community health assessment has been enacted for 2011. The goals of Fort HealthCare’s ongoing community health assessment process are the following:
  • Identify the critical community health needs including the need for new and improved services;
  • Assess the overall health of area communities;
  • Establish baseline health status for measuring the impact of Fort HealthCare programs and services designed to improve community health; and
  • Provide input into Fort HealthCare’s strategic planning process.
Aided by the market research experts at the Whitewater based Applied PhD Research, Fort HealthCare conducted a series of on-line staff surveys with employees and physicians as well as focus groups and additional on-line surveys with representatives from community agencies, school districts and employers. The survey process sought direct input regarding health and wellness priorities from these organizations.
The most ambitious component of the ongoing community health assessment was a door-to-door survey of randomly selected households that occurred throughout the Fort HealthCare service area in June of this year. The survey covered core issues related to access to health care, emotional and mental health, diet and nutrition, exercise, alcohol and tobacco use, other health-related behaviors, insurance coverage, access to healthcare and demographics. Residents of more 442 households weighed in on those health issues most important to them.
Obesity, diet and nutrition, access to healthcare, exercise and physical activity and preventive care were the five most important issues.  These issues were also determined to be very important to employers, school districts and community agencies.
Key findings from the household survey show:
  • Twenty one percent (21%) of persons within households have not sought medical care within the previous twelve months due to the cost of healthcare or lack of health insurance.
  • Forty percent (40%) of respondents indicated they were not happy with their current weight.
  • Forty four percent (44%) indicated that overall, they could not claim to regularly eat a healthy diet.
  • Sixty three percent (63%) of respondents reported that they engage in vigorous physical activity (e.g., running, swimming, bicycling) less than one time per week or never.
The results of these assessments and others performed by state and national health research organizations will serve as key inputs for the developing Fort HealthCare annual strategic plan. Key findings will be used to formulate critical goals and strategies that are intended to improve the overall health of the community. 
Fort HealthCare’s leadership recognizes the need to take a more future-oriented approach to managing the health of the local population and a more proactive stance on improving the economic and social welfare of the region. As this occurs, and other partners join in this effort, the long-term economic and physical welfare of its communities and people will be secured. This improved health climate will foster economic growth as employers are more willing to hire when local efforts yield more manageable healthcare costs. 
With this in mind, Fort HealthCare’s mission statement is: Improve the health and well-being of our community. The vision statement is: Be the healthiest community in Wisconsin. This perspective on the organization’s role in influencing not only the health of individuals but also on the economic welfare of the region is shown graphically in the diagram accompanying this article.
Creating regional cultures of wellness is a major transformation for everyone. Mike Wallace, president and CEO of Fort HealthCare is well aware of the challenge this presents. “Today we are all in the health care business. Tomorrow, I hope to be in the health business”, says Wallace.