In 2010, Pocono Medical Center (PMC) conducted a Health Needs Assessment Survey under the guidance of East Stroudsburg University and the School of Public Health. The results were cause for concern.
Not only does Monroe County show higher rates of mental health issues when compared to other areas of PA, but the numbers are also higher than those at a national level. Wellness, something that ties into behavioral health (mental illness falls into the behavioral health category), was also a concern. “To me, this is a community issue, not just a hospital or physician issue,” says Kathy Kuck, CEO of PMC. “People may not to want to live here, our law enforcement is frustrated, and our local businesses are affected by employee productivity issues.”
At the annual public board meeting in October 2011, PMC openly discussed this issue with politicians, schools, local law enforcement, and the business and non-profit communities. As a result, the Community Health Connections Steering Committee (CHCSC) was formed in 2012, and members set out to explore ideas that would bring positive change.
From a wellness perspective, companies from Weis Markets to Stroudsmoor Country Inn are coming together to create healthy menus and encourage shoppers to buy healthy foods with free coupons.
On the side of behavioral health/mental illness, social stigma is the first obstacle. A National Depression Screening Day is held each year in October, but attendance is low. “Who wants to come to a screening and admit they have a problem in a group setting?” Kathy asks.
CHCSC has been working on subtle ways to better the community and break through the stigma barrier, such as bringing people together to talk about how to be happier in life. The creation of a community portal that would serve as a resource is one possibility, and specific needs of schools are also being discussed.
Bill Parrish, Chief of Police for the Stroud Regional Police Department, serves on the steering committee. He talks about an initiative to work with School Resource Officers and provide training regarding mental health issues they may see in a school setting. “This could result in early alerts and allow intervention before crisis mode hits with another teen suicide or gun rampage,” Parrish says.
Many people are under-treated, sometimes even when they are on medication and undergoing therapy. PMC, in partnership with ESU, a CHCSC partner, is now preparing to introduce “Health Coaches,” a new additional layer of treatment. Coaches would monitor patients in between visits with doctors and therapists to help keep things on track, including possible home visits. “Sometimes little things matter, like what color furniture someone has, and whether or not the windows in someone’s home are open and allowing natural light to filter in…things health practitioners would normally never see,” Kathy says.
The second obstacle is money. Federal funding and insurance reimbursements are comparatively low; therefore many hospitals and health care facilities don’t have related services. CHCSC hopes that by implementing programs and proving they can work, perhaps their success will be recognized and federal funding will increase. They are researching grant opportunities to fund this initiative. They also applied for a “Roadmaps to Health Prize” through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, but the submission was not selected. Work also continues with the National Park Services for a Healthy People program and grant.
“Our vision is simple: A healthy community,” Kathy says. “A community coming together and working toward a common goal can make it happen.
Hospitals currently join together in advocacy under The Hospital & Health System Association of Pennsylvania. Kathy Kuck has recently been appointed to their board of directors.
Individually, every citizen can lobby for attention to this important need. Go to: www.careforpa.org to stay informed and make your voice heard collectively.
Steering Committee Members:
Bob Phillips – Greater Pocono Chamber of Commerce
Chief Bill Parrish – Stroud Area Regional Police
Commissioner Suzanne McCool – Monroe County Commissioners
Dr. Alberto Cardelle – East Stroudsburg University
Dr. Douglas Arnold – Pleasant Valley School District
Kathy Kuck – Pocono Medical Center
Mathilda Sheptak – United Way of Monroe County
Michael Tukeva – Pocono Alliance
Pastor Emilio Quinteros – Pocono Community Church
Peggy Howarth – Monroe County Transportation Authority
Sheila Theodorou – Carbon Monroe Pike Developmental Services
PMC employees and physicians also provide support to the Community Health Connections Working Groups.
Learn more about Community Health Connections at www.poconohealthsystems.org/CommunityHealthConnections, or call (570) 476-3767 to get involved.
Written by J. Renee Olson