Study: Area healthier, living well, but cancer care needed

Kenai Peninsula residents want more cancer care, Alzheimer’s services and cardiology services, according to a recently-released assessment of the community’s health needs.


The study, completed for Central Peninsula Hospital by the University of New England’s Center for Community and Public Health, surveyed 600 area residents by phone and mail. The study was approved by the Central Peninsula General Hospital Inc. Board on Thursday before being released to the media.

Key factors investigated by the study were the area’s changes in population, social and economic characteristics, access to health care, functional health status, chronic disease and various risk factors.

“All the indicators of functional health status appeared to improve from 2004 to 2012 despite the fact that the central Peninsula’s population is older in 2012 than it was in 2004,” the study reported.

Also included were cardiovascular and respiratory health, chronic conditions, cancer, mental health and substance abuse, among others. The study also focused on services the community seeks outside of the area and the quality of individual CPH services, in addition to analyzing the area’s physician workforce.

Those surveyed said oncology and cardiology were the most frequent services they traveled out of the area to receive due to a lack of qualified providers, followed by specialty surgeons and neurology. The highest quality ratings for CPH’s services were nursing, maternity/prenatal and surgical care. The lowest rates were for cancer care, specialty care and services for the elderly.

The study determined the central Peninsula area has a lower physician-to-population ratio than state or national averages and will see a physician shortage in future years due to the growth in, and aging of the area’s population. Current physicians retiring and the lack of a medical school in the area will exacerbate that trend, the study determined.

Following cancer care, Alzheimer’s and cardiology services, the community said it needed more of the following services: dialysis at 47 percent; assisted living at 46 percent; wellness at 46 percent; alcohol and drug abuse treatment at 44 percent; pulmonary at 43 percent; and mental health at 40 percent. In CPH’s 2009 health needs assessment, those surveyed indicated cancer care, wellness services and mental health were the area’s top needs.

CPH Chief Executive Officer Rick Davis said administration will incorporate the findings of the study into its strategic plan to help guide the hospital’s future growth.

“The last one we did three years ago showed a huge need for oncology services,” Davis said. “So we’ve got radiation oncology coming now, we’ve got plans for an oncology center expansion. ... This one also still shows oncology services as a big need, which is understandable because we are not yet done with our cancer center development.

“But, we’ll want to look at whatever service lines are in there that are identified as a need.”

Mental Health

Although the percentage of residents reporting more need for mental health services has risen over time — 34 percent in 2004, 38 percent in 2009 and 40 percent in 2012 — it is noticeably absent from the area’s top needs in this year’s survey.

About one in six area adults reported a diagnosis of depression or anxiety at some time in their lives, which is consistent with state and national averages, according to the study. However, women in the area were more than twice as likely to report depression than men — one in four women reported depression or anxiety, one in ten men reported the same.

About 6 percent of those surveyed said they needed mental health care services but did not receive it, about 5 percent reported heavy alcohol consumption (lower than state and national averages), and about 3.2 percent were diagnosed with a substance abuse problem. According to the study, chronic back pain, obesity and smoking were all correlated with a mental health diagnosis.

“Mental health and substance abuse findings for adults suggest that depression and alcohol abuse are somewhat prevalent,” the study reported. “However, the findings for youth suggest that interventions to address mental health and substance abuse issues might be directed at middle and high school students in an effort to prevent future burden on the health and mental health care system.”

Chronic disease and risk factors

According to the study, one in 10 adults in the area has diabetes, which is similar to the national average, but higher than the state average or similar areas.

Also, one in six residents has been diagnosed with back pain.

Prevalence of high cholesterol and high blood pressure increased 5 and 6 percent, respectively, since 2004 with the greatest increase coming from those aged 18 to 44.

Heart disease remained at 7 percent, but increased among women and decreased in men.


About 37 percent of area adults are overweight and 31 percent are obese, which is typical of state and national trends. However, the report indicates the percent of obese adults has increased steadily since 2004.

“Obesity was correlated with every chronic disease measured in the survey except for cancer and auto-immune disease,” the study reported.


The number of current smokers declined to 15 percent with the percent of former smokers rising to 35 percent. Both of those percentages best state and national averages — only 25 percent and 28 percent of national and state residents said they were former smokers, respectively. The national average of current smokers is 21 percent, the state average is 23 percent.

Of the youth surveyed — sophomores and senior high school students — 15 percent are smokers, which is lower than the national average of 20 percent. About 9 percent of the same population reported using chewing tobacco in the prior month, which is slightly above average.

The third-lowest needed service, residents reported, are tobacco cessation services at 35 percent. The report said the area’s smoking data might indicate the success of local cessation efforts.


More than 8 percent of residents reported having cancer some time in their lives. That statistic is up from the 2009 study, which pegged that statistic at 6.5 percent. Such findings are consistent with national trends. However, cancer is the leading cause of death in the area and across the state, whereas cardiovascular disease is the nation’s leading cause of death, with cancer coming in second.

Preventative cancer screenings among women — mammograms and pap smears — is low compared to state and national averages, according to the study. Only 65 percent of women over the age of 40 reported having a mammogram in the last two years. The national average of that statistic is 75 percent.

Functional health and access

The study reported that access to health care in the Central Peninsula is comparable with, or better than similar communities, the state and the nation, but there are many who have limited access to care. One in six residents reported not having a routine medical visit in the last two years. About 16 percent reported unmet medical needs because of cost and more than one in five adults age 18 to 64 are uninsured.

Ten percent of adults reported their health to be “fair or poor,” which is lower than state and national averages, but the rate of those with more than three chronic conditions is higher than other areas of the state.

“This finding indicates a perception of living ‘well’ despite having been diagnosed with chronic illnesses,” the study reported.


Brian Smith can be reached at