Putting information to use

This is the final article in a series breaking down the recently-released health status survey of western Upper Peninsula residents.

HANCOCK – A survey of the health status of western Upper Peninsula residents is not only important for what it indicates about those issues, but it will also be an important guide for health care officials as they develop policies to improve the health of residents, according to Guy St. Germain.

St. Germain, who is health officer/executive officer for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department in Hancock, said the survey, which was released in late April, was successful because of the collaboration of Aspirus Grand View, Aspirus Keweenaw, Aspirus Ontonagon, Baraga County Memorial, and Portage Health hospitals, and Copper Country Community Mental Health Services, Gogebic County Community Mental Health Authority, and the Western Upper Peninsula Substance Abuse Services Coordinating Agency. That kind of collaboration was unique.

“The assessment couldn’t have happened without (the collaboration),” he said.

The survey was completed by 2,500 respondents answering questions about 70 measures of health.

Dave Olsson, Aspirus Keweenaw director of marketing, said hospitals are required to do health assessments of the communities they serve, but something as large of the health status study, which covered Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, couldn’t have been done individually by the health care providers.

“Individually, we probably would have been able to create assessments, but perhaps not at the magnitude and significance of this body of work,” he said.

Residents of rural areas aren’t usually involved in such surveys, Olsson said.

Ray Sharp, WUPHD community planning and preparedness manager, said the survey provides health care workers with immediate local information.

“In the past, local agencies had to rely on state data,” he said. “By pooling our resources and expertise, we were able to conduct that survey on a scale that we couldn’t have done individually.”

The various agencies started talking about doing the survey at the end of 2011, Olsson said.

After the large assessment was completed, Olsson said individual health care agencies did reports about how the information in the survey could be used by them.

In June 2012 to 8,000 randomly selected households in the WUPHD coverage area

Angela Luskin, Portage Health community health coordinator, said that organization has already put the information to use.

“It’s valuable information for our health care system,” she said. “After the community health assessment was complete, we formed a wellness committee to take a deeper look into what the results meant.”

Luskin said Portage Health has developed several strategies to be developed in the next fiscal year to help address concerns identified by the survey.

“One of the areas we decided to focus on is childhood obesity,” she said.

Luskin said one of the programs Portage Health has developed is Jump Start for Kids, which is a program to get children involved in aerobic activity and healthy eating.

Portage Health has existing programs, which Luskin said can be improved based on the survey, Luskin said.

“The health assessment allowed us to confirm our direction,” she said.

Luskin said the Portage Health wellness committee will focus on the three main areas of concern identified in the survey, which are the impact on the community of an aging population, illness prevention and the affects of income and education on health.

“On each of those themes, we targeted priorities,” she said.

Olsson said Aspirus Keweenaw has increased the efforts of their diabetes program to address a large growth in the disease.

“The health assessment helped us confirm our focus on diabetes,” he said.

Aspirus Keweenaw is also working on adult and childhood diabetes, Olsson said.

“We know the community has a big job there,” he said.

Aspirus Keweenaw has formed a community health-needs and wellness team based on the results of the survey, Olsson said.

Hypertension is another health issue to which Aspirus Keweenaw will give increased attention.

Sharp said in three years, it will probably be necessary to conduct another survey using the same questions to determine if the efforts undertaken by health care systems have made a positive impact on improving health.

“The real prize is if we come back in three years and see we’ve had improvements in people’s health,” he said.

St. Germain said James Haveman, the director of the Michigan Department of Community health has shown interest in the survey.

He hopes other health care systems use it as a guide for future health status surveys.

“I’m hoping that model can be replicated,” St. Germain said.

The 262-page Western Upper Peninsula 2012 Regional Community Health Assessment can be seen at wupdhd.org.