Officials Assess Community Health

About two dozen city and county officials and health care workers met at the Health Education Center at Mercy Hospital for a community health assessment Tuesday morning.

The assessment was organized by the Valley City-Barnes County Health District and Mercy Hospital, and was used to develop a community health improvement plan, a requirement for City-County Health to be an accredited public health district and for the hospital to maintain it’s not-for-profit status.

Dr. Stephen Pickard reviewed county health data with the group so gaps in services, new services and unmet needs in health care and services could be identified. During the assessment, the officials were able to narrow down four categories that the group could focus and have the most impact on: Chronic disease and obesity; emotional/mental health; substance abuse and unintentional injuries.

To address these issues, the group decided to focus on public education at all age levels, worksite wellness, chronic disease management and prevention and to update a directory of health services and make it more accessible to the public.

To start with, Valley City City Commissioner Mary Lee Nielson will work with city officials to help establish a sense of community within the community through a series of block parties. Barnes County Tobacco Prevention Coordinator Vicki Voldal Rosenau said building relationships and strengthening communication in the community would begin to address all the gaps and shortcomings the group identified.

“Believe it or not, it gets to the heart or the core of everything we’ve talked about,” Rosenau said. “No, this isn’t going to solve everything, but we came out the door knowing that that spoke to all of these horrible issues.”

Pickard’s data showed that in some areas Barnes County was better off than other counties in the state, but there were still some alarming facts the community needed to address.

“I think it all concerns me,” said Mercy Hospital Director Keith Heuser.
The data shows that high risk behavior among high school students increased as the students go from freshman to senior year.

The message is to a large degree we’re losing the battle during high school for health-risk behaviors in our kids,” Pickard said. “They change dramatically over the course of high school.”

The data also showed that Barnes County had more children 17 and younger than elderly residents 65 and older. Three out of every four teens who die in the state are victims of motor vehicle crashes, and teenagers in Barnes County were more likely to ride in a car with an intoxicated driver than other counties.

The county had about the same rate of alcohol abuse as the state, but Pickard said North Dakota was second only to Wisconsin in binge drinking states in the nation

“If your binge drinking (rate) looks like the state, then you’re in trouble,” Pickard said. “With North Dakota sitting at No. 2, you’ve got a binge drinking problem.”