Community partnership addresses health needs

Task force keeps group focused

To improve access to health care in Logan County, IL, the Healthy Communities Partnership was formed 13 years ago. The mission statement of the partners is "to improve the health and quality of life for people in the communities we serve." This is accomplished in many ways, but almost always, education is a key component.

Yet education is not always delivered at traditional sites, such as hospitals and clinics, or by common methods. For example, to address the problem of alcohol abuse and demonstrate a healthy lifestyle, the task force on substance abuse, which operates within the partnership, rents the bowling alley in Lincoln on a Sunday afternoon and invites families to bowl free of charge. The task force provides the food, but there are no alcoholic beverages available.

"We are showing people family activities can be fun without alcohol," explains Kristin Lessen, MS, director of Healthy Communities Partnership, at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, IL. To reduce substance abuse, a change in mindset must take place, says Lessen.

The original partnership included Lincoln Memorial Hospital, Logan County Department of Public Health, Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois, the Chamber of Commerce, and a physician group called Family Medical Center. However, the group quickly realized that in order to reach a diverse population with a multitude of needs, it would need many agencies partnering to provide services within the communities. There are now 56 agencies and organizations, 15 community volunteers, and 14 churches working within the partnership.

In order to stay organized, representatives from the five original agencies form the oversight committee and meet regularly. Members from other agencies and the community sit on task forces that have been approved by the steering committee. A proposal must be submitted to determine if a particular task force is a good fit for the partnership, says Lessen.

Currently, six task forces have been formed. They include: Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs; Healthy Families; Domestic Abuse & Violence; Senior Issues; Parish Nurse; and Education.

Priority health issues are identified by an assessment of needs conducted every five years by the county health department. Issues identified have included access to care, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and most recently, obesity. Health needs are not always addressed through a task force. For example, to help people access care, the Rural Health/HOPE mobile care unit was implemented. The acronym stands for healthcare/oral health/prevention/education.

To create the mobile care unit, the group obtained a federal grant to purchase a recreational vehicle with two exam rooms. It goes out into the county on a regularly scheduled basis to serve the community. It is staffed by a public health nurse and nurse practitioner, who see patients. Patient education is part of the care process, and health screenings are also routinely held, including blood pressure screenings and glucose screenings.

Recently, a second RV was purchased with a dental exam room, in addition to medical exam rooms. Children are the focus of oral health care.

It's important to go out into the community, because people will not always come to the health care provider, says Lessen. "They don't like to get out of their comfort zone," she explains.

Health as all-encompassing

Healthy Communities Partnership sees health as all-encompassing; therefore, a new task force is working to increase the graduation rates and decrease truancy of high school students within Logan County. "Education does contribute to the health of our community," says Lessen.

Young people are targeted in many ways. An evidence-based substance abuse program that focuses on life skills is taught in the seventh grade, with follow-up sessions taught in eighth grade. A pregnancy prevention program is available to middle schools, high schools, and colleges. Preventing the use of smokeless tobacco is a new emphasis. Statistics tracked in Logan County indicate girls in junior high are using it, says Lessen.

To reach the public, each task force identifies programs offered by the agencies within the partnership that fit its goals and objectives. Urban areas within driving distance of Lincoln often provide services that are not available locally. "What we try to do is eliminate, or at least decrease, duplication of services," says Lessen.

Also, people are directed to services that best fit their needs. For example, the Senior Issues Task Force released a resource manual to help meet one of their objectives, which is to "increase senior's awareness of available resources through education."

Funding of programs can be an issue. Many have grant funding, and if funding is lost or budgets are cut, programs can be dropped, Lessen explains. The Logan County Health Department offered a family planning/pregnancy prevention program to schools, but lost the grant funding. In order to keep from losing this educational resource, the Healthy Families Task Force developed a flash drive for teachers, so the education would continue to be available to students. The partnership provides technical assistance to support the schools providing this education.

While the partnership has to go after funding to support programs, it does have a main financial supporter in the Abraham Lincoln Health Care Foundation. About 10 years ago, this foundation provided $1 million, and the interest and dividends from that original grant are used to fund programs, along with grant money.

The primary health care and preventive care offered by the HOPE Mobile is not free, but private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid are accepted. The health department provides the public health nurse, and the physician group provides the nurse practitioner. Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital is the fiscal administrator.

Is there evidence Healthy Communities Partnership is improving the health and quality of life for the people it serves? Lessen says each task force establishes measurable objectives. For example, the ATOD Task Force wants to increase Logan County DUIs (driving under the influence) by 10%, decrease usage of smokeless tobacco by 5% by 2012, and educate about over-the-counter and prescription drug misuse.

In 2010, DUI arrests decreased almost 11%. The Safe Ride Program has helped. This program provides free cab rides home on nights when people are most likely to consume alcohol. These nights include traditional holidays, such as New Year's Eve and July 4th, but also on Super Bowl Sunday — and on Friday and Saturday nights during the Logan County Fair.

The task force is hoping to track the effectiveness of education to reduce the use of smokeless tobacco through the Illinois use survey completed every two years.

The most recent assessment of community needs has identified obesity as a health issue to target. The partnership has obtained grant funding to help obese patients that access the HOPE Mobile develop healthier lifestyles with a focus on diabetes and heart disease.

Source

• Kristin Lessen, MS, Director Healthy Communities Partnership, Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital, 315 8th Street, Lincoln, IL 62656. Telephone: (217) 732-5066. E-mail: lessen.kristin@mhsil.com. Website: www.healthycommunitiespartnership.org/.