A recent health assessment by Winneshiek Medical Center will help shape the future of healthcare in the region.

At last week's meeting of the WMC Board of Trustees, Chief Administrative Officer Gretchen Dahlen told the Board about the assessment process, which resulted in five priorities and 36 plan-of-action items.

Dahlen said the Medical Center did some backround research throughout the service area, which includes Decorah, Calmar, Postville, Waukon, Cresco, Oelwein and Mabel, Minn.

"We focus on Winneshiek County, but also go into Minnesota and Allamakee County," said Dahlen.

Dahlen said WMC collaborated with Winneshiek County Public Health to assess the broader area.

"One of the biggest parts of this was a community-based online survey, which was taken by 341 people, as well as rural listening sessions in both Mabel and Calmar and priority sessions with stakeholders," said Dahlen.

Dahlen said the first priority which resulted from the research was lifestyle/health behavior concerns, includeing obesity, healthy eating, smoking, staying fit in the workplace and supporting independence among the elderly.

Action items WMC has planned as a result of that concern include the WMC Garden, working with schools and Public Health, smoking cessation, pilates and fitness, Mabel senior support services and participation in Blue Zones. (Decorah recently was named one of 10 Blue Zone communities in Iowa. A concept introduced by author Dan Buettner in his best-selling book by the same name, the Blue Zones concept is a cornerstone of Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative, with a goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.)

Priority No. 2 is control of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high-blood pressure, tobacco-related diseases and convenient appointments for primary care.

Dahlen noted with regard to disease concern, the public often rated the disease as the problem, while the health professionals often ranked the behaviors associated with those diseases of higher concern.

Dahlen said WMC already participates in a number of actions to address these concerns, such as annual free/reduced cost screenings for diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer/mammorgrams, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

She added WMC plans to expand the Mabel Clinic's hours starting July 1, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. She added WMC's clinic services include family medicine, internal medicine, urology, general surgery, radiology and skin care. Outreach services are available for cardiology, oncology and endocrinology.



Cost

The third priority set as a result of the health assessment was health insurance and healthcare costs. Respondents said they were concerned about high out-of-pocket costs for deductibles and services not being covered by health insurance. They also noted delays in care due to cost and difficulty finding affordable health insurance.

In response to that concern, Dahlen said WMC continues to connect patients with local services and resources regarding healthcare costs, supports the free clinic, publicizes WMC's financial assistance policy, participates in the SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) and works toward efficiencies and quality improvements.

Dahlen said the fourth priority expressed was drugs and alcohol abuse, including the manufacture or use of illegal drugs, and child abuse/neglect.

Activities WMC participates in to help with this concern include participating in collaborative efforts with area agencies, including schools, law enforcement, mental health professionals, public health, nonprofits, etc. She said WMC will continue its partnership with Luther College and promote the proper disposal of prescription medications.

The fifth community health need expressed was mental health, including depression or suicide in adolescents and local availability/knowledge of mental health services.

Dahlen said WMC addresses this concern by holding communitywide depression screenings, expanding behavioral health and participating in mental health first aid. WMC also has a $25,000 commemorative fund which has been set up to address community mental health.



Posted online

Dahlen said a copy of the community health needs assessment will be posted by the end of this month at winmedical.org.

A paper copy for public inspection is also available, free of charge, by making arrangements through WMC's community relations department. For more information, call 563-382-2911.