Assessing the area’s healthcare needs

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Close your eyes and envisage the building on the corner of Alder and Third Avenue. What comes to mind? The hospital, of course. And, when you think about the hospital, what do you think about? Getting hurt, getting sick, having to have tests to find out what’s wrong with you, or maybe if you’re lucky, See’s Candies. Whatever it is, it’s usually about the services contained in that block of concrete.

But, the health of our community isn’t just compartmentalized in a facility. No. The health of our community has a component of outreach that is just as important, if not more so, to the well-being of the people in Bonner General Health’s area of service. Cue in the Community Health Needs Assessment.

Since 2007, BGH’s community development team has teamed with local individuals, businesses and organizations to identify and prioritize healthcare needs. Thorough surveys are conducted every three years. Then the committee decides what can be done, what resources are needed, and who can successfully implement a program to counteract these issues.

CHNA’s are part and parcel of being a nonprofit hospital. The IRS recognizes BGH as a charitable organization because of their provision of charity care to those who can’t afford to pay. Not to minimize the importance of charity care, an element of community benefit is also one of the standards that establish the hospital’s charitable tax exemption by supporting diverse activities designed to improve the health of the population.

The last CHNA was conducted in 2016. A new one will start in July of this year, so I asked Erin Binnall, Community Development Manager to help us review what needs were identified and what steps BGH took to help move the needle on the problems.

At the top of the list was obesity. Not surprisingly, 26 percent of our population tips the scales higher than 30 on the body mass index. Starting at “home,” BGH offers their employees a wellness program that promotes living a healthy lifestyle.

“We also promoted an increase in physical activity and exercise in the community by partnering with Kaniksu Land Trust and their Park Prescrip-tion Program; we provide diabetes education and the Intensive Behav-ioral Health for Obesity Program, and we continue to raise awareness of the impacts of obesity and work to educate and improve healthy habits in our community,” Binnall said.

The second need identified was child abuse and neglect. BGH participates in the free food distribution with Food for Our Children Program; collaborates with Panhandle Alliance for Education and Kinderhaven, and works with the special education counselors at local schools to give kids the means to combat bullying and unsafe touching.

Suicide came up number three. Bonner General Behavioral Health is now staffed with a psychiatrist, psychologist, and mental health nurse practitioner. These professionals can effectively treat the underlying causes of depression that often leads to suicide.

And, the fourth and certainly not the least important need identified was mental health. Besides those mentioned above, BGH works closely with law enforcement, the court system, and physicians to improve the mental health hold process.

One program BGH has been involved in needs a lot more ink than I have left today. CAST (coping and support training) that Binnall piloted at Washington Elementary last year and has now rolled out to all sixth graders in the district is aimed primarily at curbing bullying and depression.

It teaches a method called STEP (stop, think, evaluate, perform, self-praise) that kids can use for themselves and impart to others.

“The last two years BGH has focused all community sponsorship specific to programs and organizations focused on the current health needs,” Binnall said. “Bonner General is genuinely passionate about helping individuals improve community health and quality of life.

In 2018, BGH partnered and sponsored more than two dozen local health and wellness programs.

“In mid-August, I will compile all of the new survey data, and we will be hosting a team meeting with our Advisory Council and other selected community members to discuss survey results, health data, and team input.

“During this meeting, we will identify and prioritize health needs for the next three years.”

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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