County health-care entities set five-year priorities

 ?Regard?less of the requirements, we welcomed the opportunity to reach out to the community and build stronger local partnerships in addressing community health priorities.?Jeremy Armstrong, St. Luke Hospital chief executive officer A recent community initiative by local health institutions has resulted in a decision to promote health awareness, improve communication between agencies and provide more health resources for all citizens in Marion County over the next three to five years.

The initiative was spearheaded by the St. Luke Hospital and Living Center, Hillsboro Community Hospital, and the Marion County Health Department.

The three local institutions invited leaders representing all facets of the community to participate in the Marion County Community Health Needs Assessment. Some 18 leaders participated.

Over the course of three two-hour meetings between June 25 and July 9, the group considered government statistics, analyzed input from an informal community survey and participated in group discussions before identifying the top health-related priorities for action plans going forward.

The specific priorities to be addressed include:

? promote health, wellness and chronic disease prevention;

? improve communication and collaboration between health-care provi?ders, between providers and the community, and within the community;

? enhance access to health resources and assistance for all county citizens.

Assessment required

The effort was in response to the 2010 federal Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act that mandated nonprofit hospital entities address local community health concerns in exchange for their favorable tax status.

The hospital is required to periodically solicit broad community input into what those priorities should be and then publicly declare how it intends to help improve the local situation.

Simultaneously, national public health professionals have been encouraging local health departments to pursue accredita?tion, a process that would demonstrate an ability to respond to public health needs.

Accreditation also requires a periodic assessment of community public health needs.

Given the confluence of these two initiatives, leaders for the hospital and health department agreed to collaborate in the process.

Response of leaders

The process was organized and facilitated by John Leatherman, professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University and a specialist with KSU Research and Extension.

?My office has supported strengthening rural community health systems since 2004,? Leatherman said. ?So, we have made it a priority to help as many communities as possible fulfill their requirements.?

Jeremy Armstrong, chief executive officer and administrator of St. Luke Hospital and Living Center, said, ?Regard?less of the requirements, we welcomed the opportunity to reach out to the community and build stronger local partnerships in addressing community health priorities.

?Our mission is to serve the health-related needs of Marion County. The hospital board will consider the input and develop specific responses.?

According to Marion Regier, CEO of Hillsboro Community Hospital, ?This was a great opportunity to build collaborative relationships throughout the county.

?While we realize we have significant challenges, it was clear that people appreciate the quality of the local health-care system we have in Marion County,? she added.

Diedre Serene, administrator of Marion County Health Department, echoed that sentiment.

?It was gratifying that everyone recognized the need to address chronic public health issues,? she said. ?We all recognize the problems are there. Improving the situation is the challenge.?

Action plans

How to accomplish that was a major emphasis of the program. The final session was dedicated to developing specific action plans to address the identified priorities.

?Without a road map, even well-intended efforts can flounder,? Leatherman said. ?We want to maximize the opportunity to see tangible improvements when they revisit these issues in a few years.?

Leatherman commended the local effort.

?This is about local people taking control of their community and their destiny,? he said. ?These are their priorities and plans. They are all to be commended for their concern, involvement, and effort on behalf of Marion County.?

To that end, work groups were formed to pursue specific actions. Most of these efforts will require broad-based community involvement. Armstrong, Regier and Serene invite interested county residents to contact them regarding any of the priority initiatives.

Access to the report

A copy of the Marion County Community Health Needs Assessment report is available on the websites of the three participating institutions.

Interested persons can also request to see the printed report by visiting any of three institutions.

Additional information about the county assessment and the final report are available at the Kansas Rural Health Works Website at

Leatherman can be contacted at 785-532-4492 or

Editor?s note: The original article was prepared by the three participating entities.

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