Survey says heart disease, diabetes among top community health issues

2013-05-27T00:00:00Z 2013-05-30T12:06:26Z Survey says heart disease, diabetes among top community health issuesVanessa Renderman, (219) 933-3244

Results of a community health survey are in, and local hospital officials say the findings are not surprising.

Community Healthcare System, Methodist Hospitals and Franciscan Alliance collaborated on the Community Health Needs Assessment, or CHNA, to gauge the health needs of Northwest Indiana residents, as required by the Affordable Care Act and the IRS.

Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer ranked among the top health concerns in the region.

The poll was conducted by Omaha, Neb.-based marketing research firm Professional Research Consultants.

Hospitals use the report to identify key issues and then provide annual reports to the IRS to show their efforts, said Bruce Lockwood, director of the community health division for the firm.

The firm completed 1,350 interviews. Surveyors asked 150 questions about the person's experience and behavior involving health and wellness, covering Lake and Porter counties and part of Cook County in Illinois.

"The assessment report pulls together all types of data into one report," he said.

Janice Ryba, CEO of St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, said the hospital report showed no major surprises.

"I think, in general, it was what we would've expected, especially when you compare it to national rates," she said.

The hospital fared well compared to state and national levels for the number of Alzheimer's disease cases along with pneumonia and influenza cases. It fared lower in diseases of the heart and diabetes mellitus.

Cardiovascular disease, which aligns with stroke, is an area of focus. The hospitals in the system host information sessions and symposiums about stroke prevention and warning signs so patients know when to head for an emergency department, she said.

The hospital formed a task force committee to review the assessment findings. 

Obesity and diabetes are health issues a committee may decide needs a sharper focus. Existing initiatives can be enhanced, she said.

Enhancing and expanding existing programs is possible for the task force at Methodist Hospitals, officials said.

"The community needs to understand that everything identified (in the report) we are addressing and are continuing to address," said Methodist Hospitals President and CEO Ian McFadden. 

Hospital officials know about high incidences of heart disease and cancer, for example. 

"This (report) really is more of a confirmation, more than anything for us," McFadden said. 

Top findings include problems with overall access to health care – such as transportation, cost of care and cost of medication – as a community concern, as well as high rates of cancer, kidney problems, stroke, low birth weight and infant mortality, Methodist CFO Matt Doyle said.

Tobacco use, substance abuse and a perceived lack of mental health services are other priorities for Methodist Hospitals, he said. 

In the Franciscan Alliance hospitals, multidisciplinary teams are examining the information that was compiled, said John Whitcomb, strategic adviser for Franciscan Alliance.

Because it addresses health, social, economic and other indicators, teams are determining which aspects best fit hospital capabilities, he said.

Leading causes of death include cancer, heart disease and diabetes, he said.

Whitcomb said it is too soon to say what specific programs may be developed from the CHNA findings.

"However, through the work of the teams working on this we hope to determine if we can make those services more effective and second, to see if we can offer services or programs not now in place so that the combined impact of our community mission is greater," he said.

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