By Nick Tabor, New Era Senior Staff Writer
Several months ago, Mark Pyle, director of the Christian County Health Department, promised a more proactive approach to this area’s health — one that unified the hospital, local government and others toward a common goal.
Now those organizations are getting their assignments.
Jennie Stuart Medical Center needs to bring in more doctors, according to the 2012 Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan, which the health department will make public next week.
Hopkinsville City Council needs to improve public transportation, so people can get to their doctors’ offices, and get serious about adding sidewalks and walking trails.
The school system needs a wellness policy that improves students’ diets and gets them more exercise.
Alpha Alternative needs to offer parents free classes on how to talk to their children about sex.
The list also outlines the health department’s contributions. It goes on for several pages.
If successful, it will improve access for everyone, from suburban families to the poor and disabled, including those who would never seek preventive care right now, Pyle said.
This will take broad cooperation. Organizations like the hospital and the schools contributed to the plan, but it still marks a bold step for the health department to delineate roles so concretely.
Long time coming
The health department had about 12,000 copies of this plan published in a glossy 17-page document, like a slim magazine. By next week, copies will go to every member of the Christian County Chamber of Commerce, every doctor’s office and many public buildings. Every public school student will get a copy to take home, Pyle said.
Alternatively, it's available for download here.
Fifty-two local residents contributed. They include representatives from Christian County Jail, Housing Authority of Hopkinsville and Sanctuary House, plus many health organizations. The mayor and judge-executive also participated.
The assessment followed a model from the National Association of County and City Health Officials. It’s crucial for the accreditation the health department will apply for next year.
The coordination between local health organizations falls below the national standard, according to the report.
The report lists key local health statistics and tries to diagnose the biggest factors for widespread problems. For instance, high rates of obesity and uninsured people help explain the high diabetes rate, according to the report.
As a top priority, Pyle plans to create a health care coalition between Eric Lee, president of Jennie Stuart; the president of Jennie Stuart’s medical staff; David Ptaszek, director of the Pennyroyal Mental Health Center; Pyle himself; and perhaps others. They’ll meet regularly and oversee the entire system of public and private health organizations, he said.
Also, health department employees will visit every provider in town to get a detailed list of the services they perform, the kinds of payment they accept and their specialties.
This information will go into a public database that anyone can download or pick up at the health department, Pyle said. And he plans to appoint a public health advocate who can help the poor and uninsured find a doctor to treat them.
Beyond these priorities, the report has many strategies broken down into five sections.
Under the first, “Chronic Disease Prevention and Control,” the report recommends a “comprehensive diabetes management program.” Right now the hospital, the health department and other organizations have divided programs, but they could improve by unifying, Pyle said.
It asks the city to start requiring all new subdivisions to have sidewalks and other infrastructure that encourages physical activity. This would take a “comprehensive streets ordinance,” according to the plan.
The plan recommends more walking trails around existing parks.
For its own part, the health department will buy vehicles and equip them with medical gear. Nurses will start going out every day and treating residents who don’t have transportation, Pyle said.
There’s grant funding available for vehicles. As for the nurses, the health department might keep fewer in its main building to put more on the streets.
The second section, “Cancer Prevention,” includes increasing the number of clinics and resources for preventive exams and creating more nutrition classes. These classes should start in January.
The third section, “Improving access to primary health care and oral health,” addresses the need for a clinic that will serve the poor and uninsured. St. Luke Free Clinic may evolve into such a place. It should have full-time nurse practitioners, the report states.
The health department will push for a law that lets providers treat people for Chlamydia and gonorrhea without their partners present.
The fourth section, “Ensuring a health start for children ages 0-5,” recommends better distribution of immunizations between doctors’ offices. Because of changes in Medicaid reimbursements, the health department can’t afford to shoulder the burden of immunizations alone, Pyle said.
The fifth, “Encouraging health lifestyles in children ages 6-18,” states a need for suicide prevention and anger management counseling, a diabetes program in the public school system and a school wellness policy.
Many of these measures are supposed to start in January.
Look for copies of the report in public places or download it here. Call the health department at 270-887-4160 for more information.