By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
St. Gabriel’s Hospital is required to conduct a comprehensive health needs assessment of the county every three years. In partnership with Morrison County’s Public Health and Social Services departments, a survey was completed in 2012.
“We sent 800 surveys to homes in the county,” said Pat Rioux, communications manager for St. Gabriel’s. “Surveys were also completed online via survey monkey.”
Stakeholder interviews of more than 20 people in the community with knowledge of the community’s health needs were conducted by the Initiative Foundation.
Secondary data from government agencies, private non-profits and the county’s health ranking was also reviewed.
“The perception of community health problems is perhaps the single most important information provided by the survey,” Rioux said.
The three most serious community problems, as reported by the survey respondents, are obesity (68 percent), chemical dependency (62 percent) and families not able to earn a livable wage (61 percent).
The survey showed that there are fewer primary care providers, mental health providers and dentists per capita than state and national benchmarks.
One benefit of the survey was the compilation of a directory of health care resources in Morrison County, which had not existed.
“We were better able to determine where ‘gaps’ in resources are, and to work toward filling those gaps,” Rioux said.
Some of the shortcomings that were pointed out in the survey can be addressed by St. Gabriel’s, while some cannot.
“We’re not going to tackle dental care as we don’t have the resources to address it,” said Rioux. “We also don’t have the resources to directly address behavioral health issues, which includes chemical dependency.”
But the hospital will be trying a new treatment option for mental health — “tele-psychological” services.
Psychological services through Web-based technology is a treatment option being used in more remote areas than Morrison County, such as Montana. It is also being used with success in “model programs” in Colorado and Georgia.
Its use is no longer confined to rural areas, but is cited as one of the most successful telemedicine efforts thanks to its increasingly wide use wherever there are shortages of psychiatrists or in special circumstances (prison populations). All along the East Coast (South Carolina, West Virginia, etc.) it is quite popular, Rioux said.
The Public Health Department has grant funding available to address obesity and diabetes.
“We will be working with the Family Medical Center to figure out ways to address that whole issue,” said Rioux.
The hospital will also be using a new model of patient care in a clinical setting called “patient-centered medical home.” Care managers are used for care coordination.
“The coordinators are not necessarily physicians,” Rioux said, “taking some of the burden off physicians. It’s a different way of looking at care management. This model has been used at Lakewood in Staples for a few years and is certified by the state of Minnesota.”
The hospital has received a $50,000 Rural Hospital Planning and Transition grant through the Minnesota Department of Health. An application has also been submitted for a larger grant from Catholic Health Initiatives, St. Gabriel’s parent company.
“The larger grant would pay for staffing for the first few years to get the patient-centered medical home up and running,” said Rioux. “We should find out by July 1.”
Community members working on the implementation phase of the assessment included: Chad Cooper, St. Gabriel’s Hospital president and CEO; Bonnie Paulsen, Public Health director; Brad Vold, Social Services director; Kate Bjorge, Healthy Community Collaborative’s (HCC) executive director; Kathy Lange, St. Gabriel’s Hospital Foundation director; Rhonda Buckallew, Family Medical Center administrator; Louise Welle, Public Health; Andrea Foote, occupational health nurse at Camp Ripley; Stephen Jones, Little Falls School District superintendent; Deb Boelz, Chamber of Commerce president/CEO; Ann March, Public Health; Paul Bukovich, Social Services supervisor and Dr. Karilyn Avery, pediatrician and HCC board member.
Rioux emphasized that the county is now at an opportune time.
“There is reason for optimism; there is more health awareness in general and kids are more conscious of some of their decisions,” he said. “The future health of Morrison County is assured through long-term change in health-related youth attitudes.”