CPH to survey community's health needs

Central Peninsula Hospital will soon survey area residents on what health services they feel are needed in the area to help shape how the hospital grows and works in the community, officials said.

The University of New England’s Center for Health Policy, Planning and Research will be polling 600 randomly-selected area households for the survey, according to information provided by the hospital. Mail surveys started hitting mailboxes Friday and phone surveys will begin on Nov. 2.

CPH Chief Executive Officer Rick Davis said the surveys, which are required by federal law every three years, help hospital administrators determine what services to bolster and implement in concert with residents’ perceptions of their health needs. The results of the survey are folded into the hospital’s strategic plan, Davis said, adding the hospital has been doing such surveys before being required.

“We were doing community health needs surveys when community health need surveys weren’t cool,” he said.

The last surveys recently completed were in 2009 and before that in 2004.

“We just want to encourage people to fill out the survey if they get the opportunity to get one,” Davis said. “It really is a tool we use for our planning. The more we can involve the community in our planning, the closer we can get to bringing them what they want.”

The top community health need perceptions according to the 2009 survey include more wellness services, mental health resources, alcohol and drug abuse treatment and more primary care providers.

However, during the last two surveys, residents identified cancer care as the area’s top need. CPH’s new radiation oncology center will open in April 2013, which will be, Davis said, a big step to addressing that need.

“Radiation oncology is kind of a cornerstone for a more comprehensive cancer care program,” he said. “So we’ve got the infusion piece covered, which is a big part of it, and then radiation oncology is another big part of it. But there is a need for cancer services beyond just those two.”

Davis said he envisions a full cancer center in the area to build around the “anchors” of radiation oncology and infusion, including a focus on cancer prevention, wellness, social work, counseling and incorporating a resource center and a library.

In 2004’s survey, residents identified cardiology services as the second most needed service in the area. That dropped to sixth in 2009’s survey, but Davis said the hospital hasn’t added any services between then and now.

“Right now our treatment for a heart attack is medication and helicopter,” he said.

However, CPH chief operating officer Matthew Dammeyer said one theory for the drop could have been the hospital’s efforts to smooth the transport of patients to Anchorage.

“We didn’t have the helicopter services in 2004 we have today in 2012 or even in 2009,” Dammeyer said. “We have gotten a lot more sophisticated in our travel mechanism, so people may not be as worried.”

Davis said a heart center is on the hospital’s wish list as it is a “logical progression” in provided services, but that idea hasn’t been seriously evaluated by the administration yet. He said he thinks residents might identify cardiology as the area’s top need in this year’s study.

“I would anticipate now with (having) the cancer center, (and that) we’re already on the road to meeting those needs, the next kind of big service line is probably going to be cardiology,” he said.

Residents also reported wellness services and more mental health services as their perceived second and third highest needs, respectively. Wellness services include things like nutrition and exercise classes and other preventative care; mental health includes things like counseling and psychiatric services.

Davis said the hospital has made strides in offering wellness services such as the Dine and Discuss and SAFE kids programs, among others. Wellness, he said, is specifically written into the hospital’s strategic plan and hospital administration emphasizes increasing the rate of screenings and preventative health care.

“It is counter productive to us — we make money treating sick people — but we do this for the benefit of the community,” Davis said.

Mental health services may be the largest area for improvement considering the tremendous need, Dammeyer said.

The hospital tries to build pieces around what’s already offered in the community, he said.

“We try to focus on services that are often too difficult or too expensive to run and try to find ways to supplement what is not being provided and try to create as clean of a system as you can without having a real fractured service delivery,” he said. “That’s challenging with this population because there are often a lot of people that don’t have resources and the cost of running these services is expensive.”

Because those services don’t generate as much revenue as other hospital functions like surgery, they can often be hard to afford and difficult to expand, Davis said. Any expansion of those services would continue with the hospital serving in a partner role with already established community mental health providers, he said.

Dammeyer said CPH has already gone beyond what is typically seen in hospitals of a similar size elsewhere and that’s important for several reasons.

“A lot of the medical problems that we have today are linked to behaviors and typically people think of behavioral health as counseling for problems rather than behavioral change in a health direction,” he said. “… I think we are in a good position as an organization to think about how can we contribute to behavioral change, which drives down the burden of health care costs on a community.”

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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