Defining “health” and identifying local healthcare needs was the focus on the 2022 Peterson Health Community Health Needs Assessment exercise that culminated with a group of local leaders who brainstormed ideas on how to best serve the local community based on researched data.
Lee Ann Lambdin, senior vice president for Healthcare Strategy for Stratasan, who facilitated the process, visited with 39 Kerr County residents and community leaders, representing broad interests during April and May to gather information on perceived healthcare needs locally.
After formulating the data derived from each individual interview, and comparing it to public healthcare data, Lambdin invited participants to a final session to reveal the results and brainstorm strategies to address identified needs.
“We initiated the Community Health Needs Assessment with the goal to assess the health and needs of the community. This process is an affirmation of what we’ve been doing to improve health and has jumpstarted our next implementation plan,” Peterson Health President/CEO Cory Edmondson said.
Do to Peterson Health’s large, Hill Country service area, Lambdin said Kerr County was selected for the assessment, saying Kerr County provided 72.5 percent of inpatient discharges for the Texas Department of State Health Services Region 8 from Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 31 , 2021. This region is comprised of 28 counties in South Central Texas.
According to Lambdin, the CHNA process revealed the top five areas of focus that should be addressed in the community of the next three years to improve healthcare needs. They are:
• Substance misuse;
• Housing (affordable) and access to health for the unhoused population;
• Mental health;
• Education (as a means of escaping poverty and improving health).
With regard to local data, Lambdin said Kerr County population has a median age of 50.3 years old, whereas the statewide median is 35.5 and the nation is 38.8, with 29.4 percent of the county’s residents being over the age of 65, which is also much higher than state and national averages.
The average household income for Kerr County residents is $57,405, which also trails the state ($63,524) and the nation ($64,730). However, Lambdin said, Kerr County has a lower rate of poverty at 11.6 percent.
Kerr County residents, she said, spend approximately seven percent less on healthcare than the state average.
Lambdin also facilitated a 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, in which access to healthcare was identified as a top priority, which provided to be improved for local residents, she said.
Based on the 2022 County Health Rankings Study performed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, Kerr County ranked 92nd out of 244 Texas counties for health outcomes and 18th for health factors.
“Health outcomes are composed of length of life and quality of life,” Lambdin said. “Health factors are comprised of health behaviors, clinical care, social factors, environmental factors and physical environment.”
Lambdin said the life expectancy of a Kerr County resident is 77.3 years, while the leading cause of death for local residents is heart disease, followed by cancer, COVID-19, Alzheimer’s disease, accidents, strokes, respiratory diseases, diabetes, liver disease and a few others.
Unfortunately, Lambdin said, Kerr County ranks higher than the state and national averages in suicide rates by at least 10 percent.
With regard to health behaviors, Kerr County ranks 37th out of 254 Texas counties. The local adult obesity rate is 36 percent versus that of the state and nation at 34 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
Kerr County also records a higher rate of physical inactivity, smoking and teen birthrate.
Clinical care usage and availability locally is strong, with preventable hospital stays and adults with diabetes being below the state and national average. Availability of primary care physicians and dentists ranks equal to or slightly lower per capita when compared to the state and national average, Lambdin said.
The biggest negative with regard to healthcare availability comes with the data that shows 24 percent of the Kerr County population under the age of 65 do not have access to health insurance. In the state, only 21 percent of the same demographic does not carry health insurance and in the United States only 11 percent.
Lambdin said there are four broad themes that emerged from the 2022 Peterson Health Community Health Needs Assessment.
“Kerr County needs to continue to create a “Culture of Health” which permeates throughout the towns, employers, churches and community organizations to engender commitment to health improvement,” Lambdin said.
She said there is a direct relationship between health outcomes and affluence.
“Those with the lowest income and education generally have the poorest health outcomes,” Lambdin said.
While any given measure may show an overall good picture of community health, subgroups such as the lower income census tracts may experience lower health status measures, she said.
Finally, Lambdin said improving community health will have to be a group effort and Kerr County has the assets within the community to do so.
“It takes partnerships with a wide range of organizations and citizens pooling resources to meaningfully impact the health of the community. Kerr County has many assets to improve health,” Lambdin said.
After participating in individual interviews and being presented the local, state and national data, local participants in the health needs assessment gathered for a final summit, in which they worked in groups to create goals and action plans based on the information they had received.
The most significant need identified was mental health assistance.
Two goals were set to organize a Behavioral Health Response Team and find funding for early intervention programs.
With regard to the county’s high number of citizens without access to health insurance, the group set goals to centralize healthcare resources and reduce barriers for uninsured to receive healthcare.
In an effort to decrease the obesity rate of local residents, the group set a goal to decrease the collective BMI to 31 percent in three years by increasing education on healthy eating and collaborating with schools and businesses to identify healthy food choices. It was also determined that increasing exercise opportunities helped.
Discussions and possible solutions were identified for assisting with substance abuse, addressing the disparity between socioeconomic groups and finding ways to help with the staffing shortage in the healthcare industry.
“I’m encouraging you to act on these things (identified needs), don’t wait,” Edmondson said at the conclusion of the summit. “Get a group together. Be action-oriented. Be the leader that you are and go take action.”
Edmondson said Peterson Health has organized the healthcare needs assessment to provide the service to the community, but cannot address all the identified issues as an organization.
“A lot of these things are not in our wheelhouse,” Edmondson said. “Mental health is not in our wheelhouse. Housing is not in our wheelhouse. But some of these items are and we are going to take action.”
Edmondson said Peterson Health will provide the results of the recent study to the community.
“The demand for healthcare in Kerr County is great,” Edmondson said.
I have attributed that demand to the higher-than-average median age of local residents.
“We have an older population and the demand is great, therefore it requires a lot of resources,” Edmondson said.
With regard to healthcare availability and access, Edmondson said Peterson Health is doing their part to serve every citizen.
“Peterson Health provides almost $16 million in gross charges charity care,” Edmondson said. “In bad debt, there are $36 million in charges that we write off every year. We are an independent, not-for-profit, community-based hospital. We’re very rare. There are not many of us left. We want to continue to do that, and will continue to do that as long as we can, but the community has got to come together to fix some of these issues, so that the burden isn’t on the hospital, per se, or on the community as a whole.”
To view the entire 2022 Peterson Health Community Healthcare Needs Assessment, visit www.petersonhealth.com.