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Health study offers picture of Franklin County needs

Mental health, substance abuse, dentistry among areas of greatest concern

GREENFIELD — Baystate Franklin Medical Center and community partners are in the process of developing plans to increase access to mental health services and reduce substance abuse in Franklin County and the North Quabbin.

The discussions come after the release of the Baystate Franklin’s latest community health needs assessment — a massive collection of data that highlights the needs of residents in the hospital’s service area. Hospital and health providers hope to use the information to share information and collaborate more on projects in the future.

The assessment found that some residents in Franklin County and the North Quabbin area have difficulty accessing prevention, wellness and mental health services.

Many suffer from poverty and unemployment. And poor access to transportation, along with the distance needed by some to receive medical care, provides additional challenges.

The assessment found high rates of substance abuse, including smoking during pregnancy. Residents may have difficulty accessing substance abuse treatment centers, it found.

Some experience a lack of access to dental care. Air quality is also sometimes an issue, especially for Franklin County children, according to the assessment.

Using the findings

Baystate Franklin has never had this much information about its community in a single document, said spokeswoman Amy Swisher.

Neither have local government leaders, said Phoebe Walker, the regional council of government’s director of community services.

“It’s certainly the first time the county has had anything like this ... this comprehensive a picture,” said Walker.

Swisher and Walker co-chair the Community Benefit Advisory Council — a group that has met monthly for about two years and includes representatives from the hospital, health and human services organizations and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

Now that data is available, the advisory council has shifted its focus to what can be done to address the community’s highest areas of need: access to mental health services, lowering substance abuse rates and better coordinating care.

It’s too early in the process to say for sure what the advisory council will suggest, they said.

Some projects are already tackling the issues, like a hospital-led initiative that uses communication and shared information between health providers to lower hospital readmissions. But there may be areas to improve or ways to involve more people in the projects, they said.

And others will need to be started from scratch, with advisory council members exploring grant opportunities to kickstart new projects.

For instance, the hospital wants to work closer with mental health providers in the community, according to a strategy plan posted on its website. It also will explore hosting an annual smoking cessation class with the help of community partners.

Creating the assessment

The health needs assessment was compiled using public health data, survey results from 679 local residents and in-person interviews with 35 health and human service officials. Not-for-profit hospitals are required to undergo a community health needs assessment every three years.

Seven hospitals in western Massachusetts, including all three in the Baystate Health system, pooled their resources to hire the Virginia-based Verité Healthcare Consulting, said Swisher. Each hospital received its own personalized assessment with a list of “priority community health needs” which the consulting firm developed using its own methodology.

The document itself provides an additional resource to the community, said Swisher and Walker.

Walker, a leader in the county’s Cooperative Public Health Service, said the regional health district will be able to use the data and findings to complete its own health needs assessment requirement.

And Swisher pointed out that it may be useful for organizations and groups that are writing grant proposals and need data to back up assertions of local need.

To view the full community health needs assessment, go to: http://goo.gl/z9nrXA.

The hospital’s implementation strategy is available at: http://goo.gl/amNBFI.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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