Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana
Written by Steve Euvino
MERRILLVILLE — “We gotta change how we do business,” Denise Dillard told the Northwest Indiana Health Disparities Council Jan. 17.
Chief of advocacy for Methodist Hospitals, Dillard added that buildings are not access, and affordable healthcare options are needed.
Prefacing the results of the Community Health Needs Assessment that Methodist conducted for Lake County, Dillard noted that “health is not just clinical,” citing social determinants, including domestic violence, death or other trauma, and implicit biases that affect health.
“No one size fits all,” Dillard said.
Linda Hadley, marketing director for Methodist Hospitals, outlined results from the 2019-2020 CHNA, which is required by the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt hospitals, as stated in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
Conducted mainly through mail, the CHNA is a comprehensive review of health data and community input on health issues relevant to communities served by Methodist Hospitals. The assessment is not intended as a complete analysis of any one issue, but rather as data that helps identify priorities.
The survey reflects 373 responses, including 97, or 26 percent, from Gary. The hospital gathered input from people representing broad interests of the overall community, including those persons with specialized knowledge of public health or knowledge of the communities Methodist serves.
One thing survey findings reflect is that while people in Gary and elsewhere in Lake County share similar health concerns, they differ in the level of importance placed on those concerns.
Health services rated “very important” by Gary residents include food pantries, job training, free or emergency childcare, mental health counseling and services for women, infants and children. “Very important” health issues in other parts of Lake County include physical activity, substance abuse prevention and treatment, aging and older adult services, and walking trails and other outside spaces.
Regarding overall life satisfaction, 28 percent of Gary residents strongly agreed they are satisfied with life, compared to 45 percent of residents elsewhere in Lake County.
Regarding those who needed but could not afford medical services in the past year, 22% of Gary respondents could not see a medical provider, compared to 20% of others in Lake County. Thirty percent of Gary respondents could not fill a prescription; 19% of others in Lake County faced the same problem. Twenty-six percent of Gary respondents did not have transportation for a health purpose or appointment, compared to 11% of those outside Gary.
Under social determinants, 59% of those in Gary said they feel safe where they live; 80% of those outside Gary said they feel safe.
Social determinants are the economic and social conditions that influence individual and group differences in healthcare status.
Dr. Fedi Alzeidan, president of the medical staff at Methodist Hospitals, cited transportation challenges for people to either make medical appointments or travel to stores for medications or healthy groceries.
Maria Turpin, a state navigator for Medicaid, pointed to issues in the Hispanic community, including joblessness or having multiple jobs, leaving no time to cook healthy meals.
Allyson Vaulx, director of development for Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, cited a need to focus on access to quality foods. During 2019, she said, the food bank distributed 6.1 million pounds of food. According to its website, the nonprofit agency works with more than 100 food pantries and soup kitchens in Lake and Porter counties.
During breakout sessions on food access and affordability, council members provided additional for Methodist as it develops a tactical plan for the next several years.
Group suggestions included the following:
• meeting people where they are in providing healthy options
• offering cooking classes in schools as part of the curriculum
• partnering with businesses such as Whole Foods or Trader Joes in providing healthy options
• doing things together at home as a family
• exposing people to healthy foods
• increasing the number of grocery stores in communities
• promoting nutrition at an early age
• teaching gardening and food preservation
• educating on dietary needs
• community involvement
• holding merchants accountable, to assist in providing food
• taking a dual-generational approach to education about healthy foods
• holding events to promote healthy behaviors
“We want to create a plan where children can become healthy adults,” Dillard said. “We need people to be resources, not just providers, so we can all do what we do well, and do it together.”
Franciscan Health and Community Healthcare System conducted similar surveys for the communities they serve.
Results of the Methodist Hospitals’ CHNA survey are available online at www.methodisthospitals.org.