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Study gauges health care needs

By Amber Marra - amarra@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Weaknesses and strengths in the region's health care system were highlighted in a community health needs assessment presented at Tuesday's meeting of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors.

Floyd Heater, president of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, presented the findings and described how the assessment was conducted.

The assessment is done every three years at all hospitals that work with Medicare patients, Heater said.

The study interviewed 99 external and internal participants, 84 through public surveys, and 46 within focus groups, mostly from Shenandoah County but also including portions of Page, Rockingham and southern Frederick counties. Information also was drawn from the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources.

"Giving greater insight into problems of the community allows you to plan for the future more effectively," Heater said.

The assessment put Shenandoah County in the top 15th percentile when compared with other counties in the nation for alcohol use. Meanwhile, Page County ranked in the 13th percentile and Warren in the 19th.

"We clearly have some issues there that we need to tackle," Heater said.

Shenandoah County also is in the top 36th percentile for access to health care and the 50th percentile for clinical care in general. Page County is slotted at the 19th percentile and Clarke at the 49th percentile for access to care.

The study also found that Shenandoah County compared unfavorably with other counties and nationwide for breast and colon cancers, stroke, suicide, and prenatal care. Warren compared unfavorably on breast and lung cancers, stroke, motor vehicle injuries, suicide, births to women above the age of 40 to 54, low birth weight, very low birth weight, and infant mortality.

Like most other areas covered by the health care study, Shenandoah County also has been found to be underserved in the dental and mental health areas.

"Mental health, through the lens of insurance companies or through our culture, has always been viewed differently than common medical care," Heater said.

Upon viewing the results from the community survey, the study found that most felt that insurance issues and the need for care after business hours were two of the most common barriers to health care. Survey results also reflected Heater's view that mental health care is not what it should be in the Valley Health region, as most who answered said mental health and substance abuse resources are needed.

An overview of focus groups found that 31 percent of participants think health education is the most important issue for the region, followed by mental health and substance abuse, which were identified by 14 percent of those responding.

This falls in line with Heater's plans to address the issues, which includes developing a health needs assessment evaluation committee and partnering with local community organizations.

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