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Health summit gathers ideas for improving care

January 28, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

Improving health care access and reducing cardiac disease and acute emergency department visits for diabetes are key objectives being eyed by a newly formed Washington County health coalition.

Those objectives were among several health care issues discussed Saturday by about 40 people who attended a summit to discuss community health needs.

“I was very encouraged by the level of participation,” said Allen L. Twigg, co-chair of the Health Improvement Coalition and administrative director of health management for Meritus Health. “We certainly heard some very passionate people that cared very deeply about these health concerns and are looking for answers.”

Twigg said the level of collaboration among organizations represented at the meeting “jumps out,” and given the current era of health care reform, there might be a need to work smarter, not necessarily harder, by sharing resources. 

The next step for the Health Improvement Coalition will be the completion of a written action plan to be submitted to the state with the group’s goals outlined, Twigg said.

A community health-needs assessment survey will be conducted this spring, Twigg said.

“We want all the people living in this region to participate in completing the survey because ... probably the biggest issue is not knowing what some of those barriers to accessing care really are,” Twigg said. 

Twigg said the coalition has yet to decide how it will conduct the survey, noting possible use of the Internet, telephone or regular mail.

Trish Ieraci, director of Providing Relief for Autistic Youth Inc., said she came to the summit wanting to find out how health care was going to be addressed in the community, and left wanting to get involved.

“How else do you make change? You have to get involved,” Ieraci said. “You can sit there and say ... they should do this and they should do that. Well, who’s ‘they’? ... The only way I’m going to make change is to become part of ‘they.’” 

The Health Improvement Coalition is led by the Washington County Health Department and Meritus Health. It also includes representatives of the Community Free Clinic, Teens Have Choices and the Washington County Department of Social Services. 

Saturday’s summit began with an overview of eight objectives, and those attending the meeting were asked to prioritize the importance of each.

The group narrowed its focus to three objectives by assessing whether the community has the capacity to act on the issue and obtain a measurable impact, making progress over the next three years. 

Also explored was whether community resources already are focused on making an impact on the particular issue to avoid redundancy and whether additional collaboration is needed.

Earl E. Stoner, health officer at the Washington County Health Department, said Saturday’s summit was meant to bring stakeholders in the community together as part of an effort to build on the Strategic Community Impact Plan with a goal of obtaining a positive impact on the three objectives highlighted Saturday. 

Madeleine A. Shea, director of the Office of Population Health Improvement, told those gathered at the summit that Washington County’s health strengths when compared to statewide figures are air quality, new HIV infections and access to healthy food.

The county’s challenges are nonfatal child maltreatment, fall-related deaths, adult smoking, suicides and youth tobacco use, Shea said.

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