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Partnership seeks community health input

If you have health care needs, and everyone does, the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County wants to know about them. Throughout February, and possibly beyond, the partnership organization is conducting a free, anonymous online survey as part of its triennial Community Health Needs Assessment.

The survey is open to all adults living in Carroll County, according to Dorothy Fox, executive director for the partnership, and can be found online at http://www.HealthyCarroll.org/Survey.

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Results will be used to devise ways to better provide people in the county with the health services they need and want.

"We are going to listen to whatever the community has to say," she said. "I can tell you what our prevalent issues were [on the last survey]; number one was obesity, and then heart disease and diabetes."

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The survey will be online for at least the month of February, according to Fox, and possibly longer if needs be.

"It is mainly driven by our making sure we get enough responses and [that they are] demographically equal, capturing folks in all parts of the county," she said. "It's not necessary on a strict timeline."

Results of the survey will be combined with the results from a series of focus groups, according to Fox. Focus groups consist of community leaders working in law enforcement, education and business, as well as representatives of target demographic groups such as older adults.

The partnership, along with the Carroll County Health Department and Carroll Hospital Center, will use the various survey results to create a community benefits and health improvement plan, a guide to the allocation resources to deal with those health issues identified as being the most important to the community, according to Fox.

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"We see this developed into other organizations' strategic plans," she said. "When we see it being incorporated into agencies' plans for their future over three years, you will see changes to resources. It could make more education available, or more education available in different areas of the communities and it could also make that education available to different populations in the community."

An example is provided by Carroll Hospital Center, which responded to the need for better mental health and substance abuse services expressed in the 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment. The hospital launched funded a new support program, according to Sharon Sanders, vice president of clinical integration for Carroll Hospital Center.

"We partnered with local law enforcement and the health department and other community organizations to form a group that really looked at what can we provide in the county," Sanders said. "We were able to provide additional services ... We call it the peer support program. It serves all kinds of patients, but it is basically people who have had mental health and addiction issues. We find these people to go out into the community and work with those patients."

Although similar surveys of Carroll's health needs have been conducted going back many years, according to Fox, the Community Health Assessment is a more comprehensive survey mandated every three years by the Affordable Care Act. Technically, the requirement falls upon the hospital, though in this case the partnership organization is handling the process.

Carroll Hospital Center will submit results of the Community Health Needs Assessment to the Internal Revenue Service to fulfill its obligations under the Affordable Care Act, according to Simone Lindsay, a hospital spokeswoman.

But according to Sanders, the hospital and the partnership organization really rely on the results of the assessment to guide care, not just to fulfill legal obligations.

"In order to remain a not for profit organization, we, [the hospital] have to demonstrate that we are providing a certain level of community need, so this helps guide all the activities we are doing to fulfill our mission," Sanders said. "It would be easy to find out all the things for the community that we don't get reimbursed for, but we wanted to develop a plan to make sure we really meet the community's needs."

Fox said she expects data collection effort from the online survey and focus groups will last until sometime in March, when the analysis will begin. Once the assessment is complete, planning can begin to guide the next three years of health care in Carroll County.

"We will have some raw data back May 20," Fox said. "We will have the final report posted ... by June 30 on our website, http://www.healthycarroll.org.

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com.

More information

For more information on the Community Health Needs Assessment, go to http://www.healthycarroll.org. To participate in the anonymous online survey, go to http://www.healthycarroll.org/survey

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