Inadequate mental health services emerged as the top concern at a public health forum Thursday evening in Lawrence that was attended by about 50 people.
Among the messages: “Lack of psychiatrists in area,” “our hospital does not do enough for residents who are in mental health crisis,” and “lack of mental health services delivered in the home.”
Melissa Hoffman, a community education specialist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said she offers a perinatal mood support group for women who are suffering either in pregnancy or after pregnancy.
“I often find that they have a hard time accessing health care outside that group whether it be a therapist or psychiatrist or doctor. There’s not a network of providers in place,” she said.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department hosted the forum to present the results of its 38-page Community Health Assessment, which identified 13 areas that were of concern to residents. Then, attendees were asked to help narrow down the list. Here’s how: There were 13 poster boards that had an area of concern written on them and there was a glass jar nearby. Participants were given two pennies and then asked to place them in the jars of most concern.
Here’s their list from the highest priority to the least followed by the number of votes each received, and the second number is the total votes from all four public forums:
• Inadequate access to mental health services: 19, 36
• Poverty and few job opportunities (tied for second): 11, 20
• Disparities in health outcomes and quality of life: 6, 12
• Insufficient access to health care and other services: 5, 16
• Lack of physical activity: 5, 13
• Limited knowledge of available health and other services: 4, 12
• Limited access to safe and affordable housing: 3, 9
• Inadequate transportation linking people to services, jobs and recreation: 3, 8
• Limited access to dental services: 3, 6
• Lack of access to health insurance coverage: 2, 13
• Inadequate access to affordable, nutritious food: 2, 11
• Abuse of alcohol: 0, 8
• Prevalence of abuse and intimate partner violence: 0, 2
Lawrence resident Bob Oakes said his top concerns were few job opportunities and lack of health insurance coverage, which he said are closely tied together and wonders if they should be.
"Employment often can get you health insurance but is that the right model to deal with?" he asked. "There have been a lot of people railing, 'Obamacare, Obamacare, Obamacare,' but what other options do people have other than working or going without?"
His wife, Diane, voted for the same issues.
"I think poverty is a key driver in most of the difficulties that folks face in trying to live a healthy lifestyle," she said. "My other concern is access to insurance which goes right along with that."
Christina Holt, of Kansas University's Work Group For Community Health and Development, was a key researcher for the assessment. While collecting information for the report, she spoke to residents in one-on-one interviews and small focus groups about the challenges they face.
"There's a lot of disparity in health outcomes and in quality of life here among different groups of people," she said. "Even though statistics tell one story when you hear personal stories from people in their daily experiences, it tells another story."
Holt said there were several that stood out. Among them:
• A Haskell Indian Nations University student, who worked in downtown Lawrence until late at night, said she had to walk home to campus because there was no bus available. She said there are no sidewalks on part of the route home and some areas have poor lighting. She described the walk home as very scary.
• Several East Lawrence residents said the only way they could get to the city pool was by taking the bus, and the only route available was 90 minutes.
• A North Lawrence resident, who didn't have a vehicle, said she used the Dollar General for her grocery store. She knows it's not ideal but she doesn't have the means to go elsewhere.
"I think the assessment underscored community members' concerns about a number of issues ranging from access to affordable and healthy food to things that we don't necessarily even think about every day like walkability and bikeability or infrastructure of our community and whether it supports health," Holt said.
At Thursday's forum, she listened to residents' concerns about mental health services. She said they included lack of services for people in mental health crisis and a lack of in-patient care.
"There's been some tragic outcomes of that recently in our community and I learned about that," she said.
If you were unable to attend a forum, the health department is accepting comments at Continue-the-Conversation.org.