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.
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.