Study reveals NWI’s greatest health needs - December 23, 2016

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • December 23, 2016

By Giles Bruce

MERRILLVILLE — Northwest Indiana’s greatest health needs include reducing diabetes and obesity and increasing treatment for substance abuse and mental health.

That’s according to the results of community health needs assessments conducted by the Region’s nonprofit hospitals. These surveys are required every three years under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The findings were announced at a recent meeting of the Northwest Indiana Health Disparities Council in Merrillville.

“The state of Indiana overall is ranked 39th out of the 50 states for health,” said Janice Ryba, CEO of St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart. “There’s a really significant imperative for our health systems to look at where we can make an impact on health overall.”

Denise Dillard, chief consultant for government and external affairs at Methodist Hospitals, noted at the meeting that many of the needs are social rather than medical in nature.

She said the hospital systems are acknowledging, in the most recent assessments, that issues like unemployment and workforce training have a major impact on health.

“It came up on everybody’s report: social dynamics,” she said.

Dillard pointed out that many survey participants responded that they felt inadequate support from the community, schools, churches and employers.

“This isn’t about what you’re not doing,” she said. “It’s about people not knowing what you do. It’s about the outreach isn’t enough.”

Methodist Hospitals identified its top priorities as obesity, diabetes and mental health and substance abuse.

“We want to identify community partners to work with in addressing these,” said Linda Hadley, marketing director for Methodist Hospitals. “Obesity is problem for our entire country and we, one hospital, can’t fix it.”

The Franciscan Health hospitals in Northwest Indiana identified as its communities’ major health needs physical activity and nutrition, behavioral health, access to health care, lung and colorectal cancers, infant mortality, asthma and senior services.

Meanwhile, Community Healthcare System found the greatest health needs among its patients to be nutrition and weight loss, diabetes, infant mortality, heart disease and stroke.

Ryba said the hospital system is working with schools, food pantries and YMCA to improve nutrition; expanding prenatal, breastfeeding and safe sleep education to reduce infant mortality; and stepping up the monitoring of chronic disease patients to cut down on heart disease and stroke.

“Our next initiatives are focused on continuum of care and population health,” she said. “When we identify someone at risk or diagnosed with one of these chronic conditions, our focus becomes keeping them healthy in their home environments.”

The full community health needs assessments can be found on the respective hospitals’ websites. More than 2,000 Northwest Indiana residents participated in the study.