By MaryAnn Kromer
Three years ago, the Seneca County Health Alliance conducted its second Community Health Assessment to determine the community's health care needs. The data collected was used to write grants, create programs and educate professional staff. Now, the alliance is gearing to compile a new assessment.
Earlier this month, 16 people from various agencies, schools, faith-based groups, senior centers, governmental offices and health care providers met to discuss the process to be followed and possible uses for the findings. Members have contacted a variety of organizations and invited them to participate in the alliance as the new assessment is produced.
Registered nurses Jennifer Bayer and Laura Bogard are co-chairwomen for the group.
"As organizations within our community that serve many people, whether they're elderly or children or college-age, or whatever, we can make an impact if we work together on this," Bayer said.
Bayer expressed her hope for re-vamping the alliance. After the 2008 assessment was published, meeting attendance was light and sporadic.
Early this year, a core of active members discussed what could be done to make improvements. They started by contacting those who had participated in the past, as well as others that could be included. They discovered much of their contact information needed to be updated.
Letters went out to community groups to attend the alliance's August meeting. Alliance members would like to have service clubs represented in the alliance, especially the Lions Clubs, whose members are devoted to improving and preserving eyesight, which also is related to diabetes.
A committee examined the alliance's bylaws and proposed changes, including meeting a minimum of four times a year instead of twice. Copies of the proposals were distributed at the August meeting, and Bayer urged members to attend the Sept. 12 meeting to vote on them.
Alliance members also were asked to check on the amount of funding their agencies might be able to contribute toward the next health assessment. The alliance has just over $2,000 in its account, but the cost of the assessment alone is to be a minimum of $37,000. Printing, public events and other expenses will add to that total.
HCNO is expected to raise the survey fee in 2013, so alliance members were urged to decide on a contract before the end of 2012.
Bayer suggested choosing a few key issues indicated in the assessment and focus on addressing those, rather than trying to tackle too many items at once. Even if the issues selected do not seem to affect every member of the alliance, Bayer encouraged the group to take an interest in whatever is targeted.
"What you can do is, look at what did the data in the last one say and what does the data in this one say? Are we better or are we worse? If we're worse, we really haven't done much about the problem we saw three years ago.," Bayer said. "That's where we are right now. We're reorganizing, redirecting and we are hoping to make a concerted effort with many partners and new folks at the table."
Nancy Cochran, director for Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties, spoke about the advantages of having a variety of community groups participating in the alliance. Even those not directly involved in health care have much to contribute, she said, citing SCAT as an example.
Someone pointed out that SCAT originated after a health assessment showed a need for low-cost, public transportation in Seneca County.
"The drivers get to know the people they drive around. We had a driver who contacted our office (MHRS) and said, 'One of our people has started acting a little bizarre.' ... this person did have case manager, so they, too, play a part in the health of our community," Cochran said.
In addition, Cochran had contacted Brittany Ward of the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio, the company who has conducted prior health assessments in Seneca County. Based in Toledo, HCNO does similar assessments in other areas of Ohio and southern Michigan.
Cochran said the company can do regional reports that are useful in comparing numbers in various counties. Because she sits on mental health boards in three counties, Cochran finds such reports helpful to her agencies. Data from the last assessment helped MHRS to obtain a five-year, $250,000 grant.
"The assessment is based upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They use questions that come from the CDC, so these questions are accepted by a lot of the federal agencies
where we apply for grants," Cochran said.
HCNO sends postcards to households that have been randomly selected to be included in the assessment. After that, surveys are mailed to adults in every township in the county. Each includes an incentive of $2. Cochran said the company usually receives enough completed surveys to be statistically valid. HCNO conducts another survey for students ages 12-18. Both surveys are anonymous.
"The data from that is school-specific. These surveys are done in the schools. There's an incentive to each class that is chosen to take the survey," Cochran said. "The data is released generically in the assessment, but the school receives their own information. ... We can, through HCNO, follow up with the school and see how they're doing in a year's time."
Staying with the same company also makes it easy to compare new results with those of past assessments.
The next meeting is 9 a.m. Sept. 12 at 71 S. Washington St. Any community groups or individuals interested in joining the Seneca County Health Alliance are welcome to attend. Call (419) 447-3691 with questions.