Hospital assesses community needs

April 10, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

When it comes to health concerns, Tri-State-area teenagers and young adults want to know how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Males want to get that information off the Web and females would prefer to learn about the subject in a classroom.

That's just a tidbit of information Washington County Hospital officials learned through a recent study.

To better serve the community's health needs, hospital officials wanted to know what those needs were, so they conducted an assessment.

The results of that study were released Wednesday, identifying the top topics people want to know more about and how they want to learn about them. The information is divvied up by demographic groups.


For example, men and women ages 13 to 21 wanted information about preventing sexually transmitted diseases more than any other topic listed in the survey.

The needs assessment, which is not scientific, was funded with $23,500 from First Data Western Union Foundation, said Rebecca Weir, project manager for the needs assessment. Some employees at First Data Corp. also participated in a focus group.

The study was conducted by hospital officials in the past year using written surveys, focus groups and interviews with key health informants in the local community. In total, 1,736 people participated in the needs assessment.

Surveys were distributed through community groups such as senior citizen clubs; through health agencies to their clients; and at health fairs.

Five-dollar gift cards and certificates were used as incentives to encourage the completed surveys to be returned, Weir said. Of 4,000 surveys distributed, 1,590 were returned.

The true value of the needs assessment will be in using the findings to help the community, said James Hamill, president and chief executive officer for Washington County Health System.

Educating the community about the health topics they're most interested in will require multiple organizations to work together, Weir said.

That already has started with a pilot program at Bethel Gardens that involves the hospital, American Heart Association, Zion Baptist Church and Walnut Street Community Health Center, Weir said.

The biggest concern among participating Bethel Gardens community members was hypertension, which has a higher occurrence rate in blacks than Caucasians, Weir said.

Also important to community members was learning about cardiovascular disease.

Community members wanted to learn through health screenings and one-on-one meetings with health professionals, she said.

So the organizations are working on a program - focused on heart health and stroke prevention - that provides screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes, Weir said.

Health education and blood pressure and breast cancer screenings were provided Friday during a community health fair that already was planned, Weir said.

The groups also are helping to organize a walking club and offering classes, such as a cooking class so community members can learn how to eat healthfully, Weir said.

Data accumulated through the study can be sorted using a computer database to determine what health topics demographic groups want to learn more about and how they want to learn, Weir said.

Despite efforts to reach a broad demographic, many more women than men answered the survey, Weir said.

Looking at the teen and young adult demographic, the highest ranked category of interest among men and women combined was preventing sexually transmitted diseases. The men in this age bracket who answered the survey (129 men) also ranked that topic No. 1, followed by increasing physical activity and fitness and then preventing unwanted pregnancies. The women in this age group who answered the survey (229 women) ranked their top three as follows: eating a healthful diet, preventing sexually transmitted diseases and increasing physical activity and fitness.

The rankings also can change when looking at results from the surveys and focus groups separately.

For example, parents of children ages 12 and younger who were in the focus group ranked asthma and allergies as their third highest health education need. That was a category that wasn't even listed on the written survey, Weir said.

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