Ottawa’s health plan identifies top three priorities

The 2015 Ottawa County Community Health Improvement Plan, a comprehensive report released in late November, not only identified the top three health concerns in the region but also outlined new and existing strategies stakeholders could participate in to improve residents’ health.

The plan, known as CHIP, is a result of the 2015 Ottawa County Community Health Needs Assessment, which indicated, despite the region’s top ranking by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as the healthiest county in Michigan in 2015, the three major concerns still facing residents are access to health care, mental health and healthy behaviors.

Kristina Wieghmink, communications specialist for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, said every three years hospitals are required to conduct the assessment study to maintain their nonprofit status, and the health department broached the idea of a collaborative process.

“They also need to gather input from different community members and people who are also health professionals, and from public health and community mental health,” said Wieghmink. “We came to the table and thought, ‘Why don’t we collect it all together to reduce duplication and cost involved with research?’”

The assessment, which was presented in May, was conducted in collaboration with Greater Ottawa County United Way, Holland Hospital, North Ottawa Community Hospital, Ottawa County Community Mental Health, Ottawa County Department of Public Health and Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital.

More than 2,000 adults participated in a telephone survey; another 285 residents from vulnerable and underserved sub-populations were given a paper survey; about 77 physicians, social workers and nurses responded online; and 10 in-depth interviews were conducted with hospital directors and clinic executive directors during the data collection period.

Key results indicated: one in 10 adults do not have health insurance; four in 10 low-income households are not confident about navigating the health care system; within the last two years there was a 50 percent increase in youths reporting one or more suicide attempts; and one in four adults age 18 to 24 experiences mild to severe psychological distress.

“This is pretty staggering,” said Wieghmink. “Mental health is a big area, a big concern that we have limited access and treatment options. We are really looking at ways to expand that, to address people who have any type of mental health conditions or mild to severe psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety.”

Other data showed nearly 35.3 percent of adults are overweight, about 23.9 percent are considered obese, and 20.5 percent do not participate in physical activity during their leisure time.

Wieghmink said based on consistent themes from the data, community members from various organizations, agencies, universities and interested residents took the extra step to develop the CHIP report.

“It is not mandatory and not every county or region does that, so we are very fortunate here in Ottawa County that we could work together to develop this plan,” said Wieghmink. “Over a 10-week period we divided into three workgroups for each of the areas: access to health care, mental health and healthy behaviors.”

“We all came to the table and put together our thoughts, our resources and our expertise and took a look at what is going on in Ottawa County: who is doing what and how we can work together so we are not having duplication and creating something new that is already existing,” Wieghmink added.

The 2015 Ottawa County CHIP not only identified the three priority health concern areas, but also outlined community goals and recommended obtainable and sustainable strategies developed by the three workgroups.

Community goals consist of: increase access to a patient-centered and community integrated system of care; increase recognition and treatment of mental health conditions; and promote consistent healthy behavior messages and decrease barriers to healthy living.

Strategies for increasing access to health care are implementing a community health worker model, increasing care coordination and increasing health literacy. Goals for improving mental health outcomes include partnering with and promoting the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s “be nice” campaign that addresses bullying, and training primary point of contact people in mental health, among others.

To promote consistent health behavior messages and decrease barriers to healthy living, the CHIP strategies are supporting the existing initiatives of Ottawa County Food Policy Council and SHAPE Michigan.

Wieghmink said although the county is proud of its performance in terms of health rankings in recent years, the county does have “several health conditions that need to be addressed, just like every region in the area,” and the report has a “take action” section.

“People who want to become involved can contact our department,” said Wieghmink. “We are asking people to review the assessment, to look at the supporting evidence — the data of why we are developing CHIP, read the improvement plan and then find where you can help.”

The report was “designed to engage various interest groups and to be carried out” by hospitals, public health and mental health organizations to develop and implement plans for collective action, for the nonprofit and faith community to use as a basis to design programs, and for community members to better understand the issues and become involved in solutions. Businesses are encouraged to use the plan as a reference for decision-making and to design employee-focused health solutions.

“We are reaching out to different organizations and people to really have them look at how they can help,” said Wieghmink. “It is going to take the involvement of the whole community to help implement the plan.”

Implementation of CHIP strategies and objectives is anticipated to begin in January with a review evaluation every six months.

Wieghmink indicated the two reports enabled the organizations and agencies involved in the development process to better understand how various aspects of peoples’ lives are connected to their health.

“It is looking at an individual holistically and seeing all the underlying factors that are going to either help them have healthy lifestyles or poor health conditions,” said Wieghmink.

“That being said, the community must work together in addressing these contributing factors for healthier outcomes, and when we work together and help pull together our resources to see where we can help people, that is where we can really make a difference.”

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