Committee narrows list of Douglas County health priorities to 6, cuts dental services

From left, Dr. Cheryl Biesterfeld, and dental assistant Steve Frost, provide care Friday, Feb. 3, 2012, for Calum Ochsner 8, Lawrence, at the Douglas County Dental Clinic, 316 Maine. The clinic provided free dental care for uninsured children Friday as part of "Give Kids A Smile Day."

From left, Dr. Cheryl Biesterfeld, and dental assistant Steve Frost, provide care Friday, Feb. 3, 2012, for Calum Ochsner 8, Lawrence, at the Douglas County Dental Clinic, 316 Maine. The clinic provided free dental care for uninsured children Friday as part of "Give Kids A Smile Day." by Richard Gwin

Douglas County Dental Clinic executive director Julie Branstrom was surprised to learn that access to dental care didn’t make the list of community health priorities.

“I believe when you have a Free Dental Day and you have people lining at 8 p.m. the night before to receive free services, that’s a pretty good illustration that we have barriers, that people aren’t able to access care,” she said.

In 2011, there were more than 470 cases of preventable emergency room visits at Lawrence Memorial Hospital because of dental problems. A recent report also found that 1 in 5 Douglas County residents had not seen a dentist in the past 12 months.

“I am hopeful that access to dental care will still be an issue that is given priority and that it will be an issue that is worked on,” Branstrom said.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department has been leading an effort to put a plan in place to help improve the health of residents.

“We really want to move the community forward on how do we work together collectively and creatively to make change,” said Charlotte Marthaler, assistant director of the health department.

Earlier this year, it collected information through one-on-one interviews, focus groups and an online survey. Then it released a report with its findings and statistics in late April. There were 13 areas identified as needing improvement. In May, the health department held four public forums to gather input on those 13 areas. During the forums, mental health emerged as the top concern.

While the community is working on all of those areas, Marthaler said, the health department wants to focus on just a handful.

“Trying to bring this collective action around any one of these priorities, we believe will help us to make real change in the community,” Marthaler said.

On June 12, a 12-member Community Health Assessment Steering Committee met and narrowed the priority list to six, which was presented to the health department board during Monday’s meeting. They are:

• Lack of physical activity

• Frequent abuse of alcohol

• Inadequate access to mental health services

• Lack of affordable healthy foods

• Poverty and too few job opportunities

• Insufficient access to health care and other services

Areas that didn’t make the cut were: limited knowledge of health services, disparities in health outcomes, lack of insurance coverage, inadequate transportation, domestic violence, safe and affordable housing, and limited access to dental services.

The committee is scheduled to talk about its list during a 90-minute meeting Monday with community health leaders, county officials, and city leaders from Eudora, Baldwin City and Lawrence.

Marthaler, who is a member of the steering committee, said access to dental services was the last to be cut from the list, and there were conversations about including it under insufficient access to health care.

“We went back and forth,” she said.

The list isn’t a done deal — yet. It could be narrowed or expanded based on the feedback it gets during Monday’s meeting, and Branstrom will be there as a board member of the Douglas County Community Health Improvement Project. The goal is to have an action plan set in November.

Residents weighed in on their top health concerns during a public forum Thursday, May 19, 2012, by placing votes and messages on poster boards. The forum was hosted by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

Residents weighed in on their top health concerns during a public forum Thursday, May 19, 2012, by placing votes and messages on poster boards. The forum was hosted by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. by Karrey Britt


THE DECISION-MAKERS

The Community Health Assessment Steering Committee was formed in December and has been meeting biweekly. The committee is setting health priorities for the community.

Those on the committee are: Janice Early and Anne Marie Boncella, of Lawrence Memorial Hospital; Janelle Martin, of Community Health Improvement Project; Chip Blaser, of Douglas County Community Foundation; Erika Dvorske, United Way of Douglas County; Jon Stewart, Heartland Community Health Center; and Dan Partridge, Charlotte Marthaler, Charlie Bryan, Vince Romero, Anitha Subramanian and Colleen Hill, of Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

Tagged: Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Community Health Assessment, Douglas County Dental Clinic, dental services

Comments

Jennifer Klopp 1 year, 10 months ago

Is there really a lack of affordable healthy in Douglas County, or is it just too easy too eat poorly? There are numerous Farmers' Markets in Douglas county, not just in Lawrence. If you go to any grocery store in town there is a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce section. I bought a bag of Royal Gala apples at Dillons recently and paid $3 something for 10 apples-that is about 30 cents an apple. Perhaps the answer lies in helping individuals and families identify healthy, low cost food choices at their local grocer, farmers' market, etc and how to prepare them. It is waaaaaay too easy in Lawrence to just pull up to a drive thru and order high fat, high sodium food, but I don't really think it is that much cheaper financially. However, the cost to our health by choosing fast food is quite high.

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Jane 1 year, 10 months ago

What a poor list of priorities. Dental health is one of the biggest indicators of the health of the individual. While the items on the list are related to the health of our community, they are not in the purview of the County Health Department. Try again.

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mikekt 1 year, 10 months ago

This list of 6 is too complicated and contains main items like alcohol ( & i assume, drug abuse... & cigarette use,... which costs society millions yearly for Lung Diseases & Cancer ) & physical inactivity, that are really Mental Health Counseling & Treatment or Physical Health Counseling & Personal Choice Issues, that can be well addressed in a Mental Health or Physical Health Counseling Settings or thru non profit advocate groups such as, Alcoholics & Narcotics Anonymous, Alanon, etc..(.Or thru the Court Systems sentencing of offenders, to verified treatment group attendance.....or they go to jail where they will dry out for a while, by being forced to. Personal Lifestyle Choice Issues shouldn't be stand alone items on this list because it is either a basic infrastructure that is lacking to handle them, if people are pushing for services in those areas, or it's their failure to seek out services that are already there? Which is it??
Lots of folks choose not to clean up "their acts" & their relatives put up with it or choose to be enablers & co-dependants ( or to leave it at societies door ) There are exercise programs in the Lawrence Parks Department, already, for the physically inactive. Poverty & too few job opportunities are a grandiose stretch, for the Health Department, to take on and solve........might as well change the name from The Health Dept. to "The Department of Everything" & send us all to counseling....for ADHD,.... or move it all to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., in Washington, D.C..! These focus groups.......Well, i don't know about how "focused" they were? Maybe that has to do with the way that the questions were put to the respondents??????
I think that there is a real place for the Health Department in supporting 1.) affordable sliding scale health care clinics 2.) affordable sliding scale dental services clinics, including emergency services for true after hours emergencies ( 470 ER visits X what ? $ for dental issues? ), 3.) an affordable sliding scale mental heath network of services, for mental health & lifestyle issues 4.) and some system of getting healthful food to the poor thru community groups, etc.. including counseling on how to eat cheap,.....but healthfully! Maybe there should be a "Dept. of Everything Else" that could randomly advocate for non health care issues such as affordable housing, poverty, job assistance, etc.? Or a one stop phone number for all things informational & for referrals to services in this geographical area?

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Brian Hall 1 year, 10 months ago

"Poverty and too few job opportunities" lead to everything else on that list. Why doesn't the Health Department merge that with "Insufficient access to health care and other services" and add back in "access to dental services?"

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thinkagain 1 year, 10 months ago

As a participant in the focus groups, I would say that I don't think the intent was for the HEALTH department to change its priorities to include more jobs at the expense of dental care. Poverty and lack of jobs do impact the overall health and wellness of the county. But bad teeth are a huge barrier to employment. The health department can be committed to more access to jobs by prioritizing access to dental care and should not take it off the table as a important concern.

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