Rock County health needs identified
Nearly 10 percent of respondents to the Rock County Community Health Needs Assessment Survey reported being diagnosed with a mental health illness within the past two years, and of this group, only half believed they were able to access the care they needed because of an inability to pay for a doctor's visit and/or medications and a lack of insurance coverage.
Nearly one in five Rock County adults report inadequate social and/or emotional support, compared to the state average of 17 percent and national benchmark of 14 percent.
Major depression has been diagnosed in about 5.6 percent of Rock County residents, according to a community health status report by the Department of Health Services. Compared to the national average, more Wisconsin adults report poor mental health.
JANESVILLE Too many Rock County residents smoke, drink and eat too much.
They don't exercise or go to the doctor or dentist when they should.
And access to mental health services is lacking.
That's the consensus of two recent health assessments.
"There's a myriad of health problems in Rock County, so we had these four that we identified as really significant health risks, but there's a lot of others," Rock County Health Officer Karen Cain said. "If we were able to deal with these health problems, it certainly would have an impact on a lot of other health problems in Rock County."
The good news is officials from all four hospitals and other health care providers in the county are working with the county health department to address the needs.
"I think the feeling is this is not a competition," said Jim Pernau, CEO of Edgerton Hospital and Health Services. "This is a collaboration to truly do the right thing and help people get healthier."
Since fall, the Rock County Health Department and local health care providers have worked to identify health care issues that most seriously affect the community. The results of the community health needs assessment set the groundwork for providers to start tackling the problems.
The committee concluded Rock County's top health needs are:
-- Mental-health related issues, including substance abuse and inadequate access to treatment.
"There's a very serious need for more mental health care providers," Cain said.
-- Dental health services are "greatly unmet."
It's a problem particularly among patients on medical assistance because few area dentists accept medical assistance, and the clinics that do are booked for months, Cain said.
-- Underutilization of preventive health screenings.
Patients aren't getting mammograms, colonoscopies and pap screenings, said Larry Bergen, director of quality reporting and community health at Beloit Health System.
The important cancer screenings have "just fallen by the wayside a little bit," he said. "Statistics show we're not doing a good enough job promoting those procedures."
-- Harmful lifestyle choices, including obesity, smoking and inactivity.
About 28 percent of Rock County adults smoke, and about 65 percent of adults are either overweight or obese. Both statistics are higher than the state.
Information was gathered through surveys and a series of public listening sessions around the county last fall. The assessment is mandated for hospitals every three years under the new federal health care law. The health department worked with the four hospitals to do one assessment.
In Bergen's 25 years at Beloit Health System, he said this was the first time people from each hospital and related agency sat down together to discuss the county's needs.
"The spirit of working together is something that I am literally thrilled about," he said.
Wisconsin's recently released county health rankings show Rock County remains in the lower one-third of the 72 counties. The county's ranking improved to 58th overall, compared to 66th last year. Cain cautioned, however, that some of the criteria changed from last year, and the rankings should be looked at over several years.
The UW Population Health Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation produce the annual rankings for nearly every county in all 50 states by using a standard measure of how healthy people are and how long they live.
The county's ranking of 68th in health behaviors, for example, confirmed what local experts found.
One of the health department's focuses is working with pregnant mothers to decrease smoking during pregnancy.
Public health nurses last year worked with 216 pregnant women, including 61 pregnant women who smoked before pregnancy. Among the 61 smokers, 92 percent reduced or quit smoking during the pregnancy. That's 3 percent better than 2009, Cain said.
One of the biggest jumps in the county comparisons was Rock County's ranking in physical environment, dropping from 20th last year to 57th this year. The most significant criteria change was the growing number of fast-food restaurants. Forty-five percent of all restaurants in Rock County are fast-food establishments, according to the rankings, compared to 41 percent overall in Wisconsin. The national benchmark is 25 percent.
Fast-food restaurants are not necessarily bad, Cain said, "but the choices we make when we go there and the frequency we eat there" can be unhealthy.
Addressing the needs
The committee of local health care professionals could consider its work done now that the needs have been identified, but the group is committing to work together to address one of the needs—likely obesity and physical inactivity, Cain said.
Separately, hospitals are required to identify strategies they will implement to deal with some of the issues in their communities.
Committee members will make presentations in each community about their assessment, and they hope to work with school districts and organizations that work with children to reduce obesity and physical inactivity, Cain said.
While hospitals and other providers still are developing their plans, local health care executives said the needs identified are no surprise. Many initiatives already focus on some of the problems.
HealthNet of Rock County, which serves uninsured and low-income residents, is planning to add a second dental room to reach more patients and provide additional services, Executive Director Jean Randles said.
Since HealthNet's dental clinic opened, the number of dental cases at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center's emergency room has dropped from 521 in 2007 to 372 last year. That's a positive change because the emergency room is the most expensive place for dental work.