Survey by Levi identifies community's priority health issues

The exterior of Levi Hospital. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record
The exterior of Levi Hospital. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

Poverty was the highest priority issue identified in a community health survey conducted last year by Levi Hospital, followed in order of importance by substance abuse/tobacco usage, mental health and obesity, a news release said.

"With the help of our local health advocates, who offered insight and advice through a Community Advisory Committee, strategies were developed to make an impact in these four areas over the coming years," the release said.

The strategies are outlined in the recently released Community Health Needs Assessment Executive Report.

"In the true spirit of investing in community health, we know that the greater the contribution, the greater the impact. As such, we hope to sustain health improvements throughout the community and promote future health successes that are only possible through the awareness and support of community members, leaders and organizations," Alisha Chatman, Levi's director of community health, said in the release.

It was announced in March 2019 Levi would once again be conducting the survey which was distributed to multiple locations and available online. The survey concluded in June and the community leader questionnaires were completed in May, and the information gathered was compiled into the executive report.

The Garland County Health Unit "provided a few secondary data points as well as weighing in on health needs that employees and administrators have observed in the community," the report states. Other key partners who gathered information were the Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic, Difference Makers of Hot Springs and Project Hope.

"All three nonprofits located in Hot Springs work daily in the community to provide resources and to bring preventive services and awareness to the underserved and minority population," it said.

"Levi Hospital would like to thank the advisory committee and all citizens who took the time to complete the survey," the release said.

Committee members included Dr. Bob Aspell, Lynn Blankenship, Joyce Craft, Esther Dixon, George Dooley, Sarah Fowler, Don Gooch, Mark Howard, Janet McAdams, Bart Newman, Dr. Jack Porter, Susie Reece Reynolds, Chris Rowland, Dr. Gene Shelby, Janie Smith, Hot Springs Police Chief Jason Stachey, Gary Troutman, Willie Wade Jr., and Anthony Whittington.

Secondary data was gathered and compiled from other sources including the Arkansas Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, American Community Survey, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Kids Count, Data Book and the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, the report states.

The population estimate reported by the American Community Survey indicated Garland County's rate of growth has increased by 3.3% since 2010, making Garland County the eighth-most populated county in Arkansas.

"Garland County is continuing to experience positive growth in the south-central region of Arkansas while other counties in the same region have seen a decline," the report states, including Clark with minus 3.7%, Montgomery with minus 6.1% and Pike with minus 5.2%. According to the ACS data, the population of Garland County in 2017 was 99,154.

On the issue of poverty, the report notes Arkansas ranks 46th in poverty at 18.1% with Garland County showing a higher rate than the state or national levels at 19.1%. "Over one-third of children in Garland County live in low-income families or an extended family household," the report states.

It noted the overall poverty rates in Garland County are "slowly declining" from 20.9% in 2013 to 19.1% in 2017. The highest poverty rate by race "is found among African Americans and those who are of Hispanic and other races," it said.

Strategies to combat poverty addressed in the report include continuing to partner with CCMC and support its Bridges Out of Poverty program, attending Southwest Arkansas Partnership meetings and assisting with the Point in Time homeless count, continuing the partnership with the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project and continuing to "seek opportunities to educate the community about the impact of poverty on the overall health of the community."

Other proposals include seeking grant funding and programs to target poverty, placing "a greater focus on communicating the overall development planning framework roles of various community organizations," finding resources to increase the literacy rate, providing after school, summer and mentorship programs for "at risk children," referring people to the Getting Ahead classes and establishing more job fairs throughout the city.

On the issue of substance abuse and tobacco usage, the report notes that in 2017, 22% of people 18 years or older in Garland County smoked cigarettes. The use of e-cigarettes went up among middle and high school students showing behavioral patterns along with alcohol and marijuana.

According to the health survey, "the urgency to address and educate more about substance abuse will allow local leaders to address mental health within substance abuse recovery."

Advancement strategies include increasing prevention efforts and resources, encouraging a "citywide walk for youth and adults to bring awareness about the epidemic of substance abuse, tobacco usage and prescription pain killers," educating school districts and participating in Red Ribbon Week and positive teen activities, partnering with organizations such as Smoke Free Hot Springs and the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, collaborating with law enforcement and city officials during the prescription drug take back programs, and promoting the "Narcan" opioid overdose kits.

On the issue of mental health, the survey found about 41% of Garland County residents reported that a member of the household "has been feeling sad, worried, stressed or depressed," noting that such conditions may be occasional or long-lasting and affect one's ability to relate to others and function daily.

"Many risk factors play a causal role to determine whether someone will have an increase in mental illness and both poverty and substance abuse fall under that category," the report states.

Suggested strategies outlined include a public awareness campaign "to normalize mental health with a focus on prevention," integration of mental health into medical offices and community services, exploring more mental health resources and education, increasing mental health access and recruiting more mental health providers, and increasing family and individual counseling.

On the issue of obesity, the report notes over half of the children in Garland County "are facing this health barrier." It cites the lack of education on the importance of healthy eating, lack of participation in physical activity and lack of healthy dietary choices as factors in the problem.

Strategies offered in the report include collaborating with community organizations to "teach, encourage and promote" adequate nutrition and physical activity, continuing to partner with the Hot Springs Farmers & Artisans Market and its SNAP at the Market program, continuing to host the Annual Food Day to educate about eating healthy food, implementing community activities "that contribute to decreasing obesity rates," helping employees reduce the health care cost of obesity-related conditions and increasing the worksite wellness programs.

To receive a copy of the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment Executive Report, call Chatman at 622-3325 or email her at [email protected]. Paper copies can be picked up on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Levi Hospital, 300 Prospect Ave., on the first floor or visit the website at www.levihospital.com/community-health.

"If your organization is working on tackling health-related needs and making a difference in poverty, substance abuse and tobacco usage, mental health or obesity, we would like to collaborate with you," Chatman said.

Local on 01/19/2020

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