Hospital looks to improve local wellness

LEWISTOWN Lewistown Hospital has developed a wellness plan in response to the 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment, which documents lowered health quality in Mifflin and Juniata counties.

“In a climate of increasing accountability, it’s important to make sure we’re doing the right things that demonstrate community benefit,” said Phyllis Mitchell, vice president of marketing and community affairs at the hospital. “Our goal is to have a road map to develop strategies for long-term solutions and to invest resources to achieve the greatest impact.”

The hospital’s plan, referred to as the Community Health Needs Assessment Implementation Strategy, identified two main priorities: access to quality and timely care; and improved resources for healthy lifestyle choices.

“The implementation plan outlines not only what objectives we want to achieve in the future, but also existing community resources, and specific programs the hospital currently offers,” Mitchell said. “We will be setting measurable objectives and closely tracking our activities.”

In addition to decreasing emergency department wait times, offering same-day appointments at Family Health Associates and providing health literacy programs, the hospital has started a medical home initiative, which pairs patients with a primary care doctor and screens them for possible public health insurance programs.

“When the patients have contact with our staff, whether at registration, before a procedure or visit or after the provision of service, during the billing process, our staff will discuss the options and services that may be available to them,” said Randy Tewksbury, hospital vice president of finance and chief financial officer.

The hospital and physician offices will provide educational and awareness opportunities for the public to discuss available insurance programs and information, Tewksbury said. The hospital is also working to accept most insurance plans, provide free care for those who cannot afford to pay, offer discounts to patients without insurance and offer extended time payments.

The second priority, improving resources for healthy lifestyle choices, is a direct route to decreasing chronic conditions like heart disease, lower respiratory disease and obesity, all of which are prevalent in Mifflin and Juniata counties, according to the needs assessment.

“There’s plenty of documented scientific research that shows how leading a healthy lifestyle greatly reduces a person’s risk for developing chronic disease,” Mitchell said. “For example, there’s a long list of health problems tied to obesity … (including) diabetes, high blood pressure, degenerative joint disease, sleep apnea, cancer and more. Obese people are often sicker than others and their lives can be two to five years shorter.”

Initiatives in this area are designed to: create awareness about risk factors through employee wellness programs and public education events; reduce prevalence of smoking among adults and youth; increase physicians who regularly assess body mass index; increase physician visits for counseling or education related to weight reduction, nutrition or physical activity; improve chronic disease management through intensive case management and nurse navigator programs; provide education and support for families of patients with chronic disease through community based programs.

“We are tackling tough health issues and it will take a community wide effort,” Mitchell said. “We need to join forces with the school districts, businesses, state health centers, parks and recreation, human service agencies and other health related organizations to focus on turning around the health of our residents.”

The hospital’s next steps involve the formation of action teams, which will include a broad cross section of community members, Mitchell said. The teams will work together to develop specific programs to further address the implementation strategy’s two priorities.

The next Community Needs Health Assessment will take place in three years, Mitchell said, however, the hospital will continue posting progress updates online.

For more information visit, The Community Health Needs Assessment and Implementation Strategy documents can be found by clicking on the “About Us” tab.