WAHOO – Mental health, access to health care services and healthy lifestyles are the top three critical challenges that emerged from a recent focus group session.

Three Rivers Public Health Department is again leading a discussion to help frame Community Health Improvement Planning (CHIP).

Three Rivers Director Terra Uhing said a Community Health Assessment is done every three years and the data from that assessment can help steer health care priorities for the coming years.

Focus groups have recently been held in Dodge, Washington and Saunders counties, all served by the public health department.

The session in Saunders County was held Aug. 29 at Saunders Medical Center in Wahoo and in attendance were representatives from a cross-section of stakeholder organizations.

Mindy Anderson-Knott, with Schmeeckler Research, presented data from a collection of health assessment sources, as well as a Community Health Assessment Survey taken by 107 people in Saunders County.

The data she presented included basic demographics, such as over the past 8 years the county’s population has grown by 8 percent.

The county’s population is also older than the rest of the state’s average. The mean age in the county in 2017 was 41, compared to the state’s 36.3. Data from that same year also showed 17 percent of the county’s population was over age 65, compared to the state’s average of 15 percent.

While the county’s median income was higher than the state’s average, Anderson-Knott said the data also shows that poverty is increasing in Saunders County. Based on the 2013-2017 poverty estimates, an estimated 1,860 persons were living in poverty.

She said single mother families and veterans were those showing the greatest increase in poverty levels.

Some of the health data she presented had numbers that showed decreases.

Alzheimer’s related death in Saunders County decreased in the four years prior to 2017.

Deaths due to cancer were still higher than stage averages, but also decreased.

“So, that is a silver lining right there,” Anderson-Knott said.

Cancer, specifically breast cancer and mammogram awareness, was one of the priorities from the CHIP three years ago.

She said it is hard to know what is causing the decrease but the efforts to target cancer awareness might be a factor.

From 2013 to 2017, there were 230 deaths due to cancer in Saunders County. There were decreases in lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers.

Obesity has taken an increased trend in recent years, however.

The data presented showed 33 percent of the Three Rivers district’s adult population was obese, and 71 percent of the adult population was overweight or obese.

Both rates were at or above the state average.

The suicide rate dropped in Saunders County.

“But even with the drop, it’s still higher than the state average,” Anderson-Knott said.

Tabbed as a mental health issue, there were 17 suicides in Saunders County from 2013 to 2017, accounting for a rate of 13.5 per 100,000 population. The state rate is 12.9 for that same population.

There were increases in deaths of Saunders County people due to motor vehicle incidents.

According to the survey of Saunders County residents, using/overuse of the phone or other electronic devices, including drivers, is the most impactful behavior on health. It was followed by not enough exercise.

Diabetes related deaths increased in Saunders County between 2013 and 2017, accounting for a rate of 23.7 per 100,000 population.

Access to health care was among the questions posed during the survey of county residents.

High deductibles, not enough providers, can’t pay for health screenings and limited officer hours were among the reasons respondents said there were challenges locally.

There was a lot more data analyzed for the Community Health Needs Assessment. The full report is available on Three River’s website, https://threeriverspublichealth.org.

Following the presentation of data at the Aug. 29 focus session in Wahoo, participants were asked to identify trends and help develop an ordered list of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed.

Three Rivers Community Health Planner Lindsey Cork reported last week that eight critical challenges were initially identified. Those were poverty, risky behaviors, healthy lifestyles, access to services, family engagement, mental health, aging population and policy and advocacy.

Based on rankings by those attending, the designated strategic issues are mental health, access to services and healthy lifestyle.

The task at hand now will be to further explore those issues and develop a plan to help address them.

Cork said more focus meetings will also be planned in order to get feedback and opinions from more people.

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