By Gail Parsons
DCNT News Editor
Housing and mental health again show up on the Dickinson County Community Health Needs Assessment’s priority list.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act require not-for-profit hospitals to conduct a CHNA every three years — the last one for MHS was in 2019. At that time housing and mental health came in at second and fifth respectively as priorities — this year those issues are the top two.
“The focus on the housing issue was really that we don’t have adequate housing for low-income families,” said Haley Jones, MHS director of development and marketing.
Although housing is not an issue hospital staff can address it plays a role in the overall health and health equity of a community. The CHNA was compiled by VVV Consultants LLC of Olathe. In their report, it states health equity means “everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health, such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.”
Mental health is an issue the hospital can and is addressing said Harold Courtois, MHS chief executive officer.
“We are getting ready to incorporate mental health into our Heartland Healthcare Clinic,” Courtois said. “What we are hoping to do … is reach people early in their mental health, as opposed to later when they have bigger problems. We’re hoping to affect people’s mental health positively earlier, with better results, doing it in our clinic.”
In the 2019 survey, drug abuse and mental health were split into two categories, for 2020 they were combined.
“Drug abuse plays into the mental health area,” Jones said.
Over the past couple of years, COVID-19 ended up exasperating mental health issues.
Dental care was another priority but like housing, Jones said other agencies in the county will need to take the lead on recruiting dentists.
Number eight on the list was the accessibility of physical activity options. The lack of options in a community leads to increased obesity, thus is a health concern, which MHS has worked to address.
“One of the items that we did, and spent a lot of money on the Blue Cross Blue Shield grant, was our new walking trail here on the east side of town,” Courtois said. “In this area, there is no other way to exercise unless you drive across town. I understand that Abilene is not a big town, but a lot of people just want to walk near their homes and be able to exercise and not have to drive somewhere.”
Insurance and Medicaid expansion are also topics the hospital is working to address through advocacy and education.
“A lot of people don’t understand Medicare Advantage,” Courtois said. “While it sounds really good, you get a fairly cheap premium, you end up being a lot more responsible for your bill than you would on traditional Medicare. These people are stuck with the bill — they can file for financial aid with the hospital but we would like to help them understand the differences and make sure their providers are in the network.”
Rounding out the top eight priorities were childcare and food insecurity. Neither of those issues is directly related to hospital operations but MHS can and has worked on the peripheral of both.
At one time the hospital operated a childcare center, they have since come to an agreement with the Abilene Child Learning Center to offer them a lower, long-term lease on the building to offer childcare.
To address food insecurity hospital staff have donated to organizations like Neighbor to Neighbor and Catholic Charities, both of which are tackling those issues.
For the next eight weeks, the Dickinson County News-Times will take an in-depth look at each of the priorities.