Community residents offered input Monday evening on the state of health care in the area, both the good and the bad, and how to improve it during a town hall meeting sponsored by the University of Kansas Health System Great Bend Campus.
The gathering in Perkins Family Restaurant’s banquet room was part of a joint effort involving the UKHS-GB, area non-profits, health departments, schools and insurance providers to develop a Barton County Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan.
“This is a very unique coalition,” said Regan Reif, UKHS-GB strategic marketing manager. Creating this plan is a public-private partnership made up of the United Way of Central Kansas, Barton County Health Department, Aetna Better Health of Kansas, the University of Kansas School of Medicine and UKHS-GB, with support from the Kansas Center for Rural Health.
Numerous local social service and medical leaders have been interviewed for their perspectives. In addition, the United Way of Central Kansas provided data from its recent community needs assessment completed by the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University.
Now, focus groups and town halls are scheduled, with Monday’s meeting being the first such event.
“We’re trying to kind of break down silos and bring lots of different people together and hopefully come up with, ultimately, some kind of an action plan that everybody can feel really invested in,” said Dorothy Hughes, Salina-based assistant professor of population health for the University of Kansas School of Medicine. “We hope it will help move the community forward in the ways that you think are important.”
Attendees seated around the tables represented a wide variety of interests from the Health Department to a myriad of agencies and non-profits that provide health services, and citizens just wanting to learn more about what opportunities are available.
Hughes asked those at each table to brainstorm amongst themselves then she compiled the answers for a group discussion. They covered four questions: What are the community’s strengths, what are the weaknesses, what voices need to be heard and what those present wanted to learn.
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease,” she said. “So to understand strengths and challenges, we need to consider all the things that affect health.”
So, she asked them to think broadly. This could include getting to a doctor’s appointment or just having enough healthful food to eat.
Those present thought the county has a lot of resources available from a myriad of agencies that work well together, but the problem was that many who need these are unaware of what is there.
Limited transportation options, lack of/cost of childcare and affordable house ranked as other key challenges.
It was also agreed upon there needed to be more involvement by those facing the challenges as well as those offering the services. And, there needs to outreach to all the communities in the county.
Monday night’s meeting was a good start. “This was a chance to bridge the gap,” one participant said.
Once all the information and input have been gathered, the group will work together to develop an improvement plan and share with the community, along with action steps to address issues identified and share progress toward those goals, Hughes said. She hopes to have the plan completed by next summer and have starting acting on portions of it by the end of 2023.