To determine the healthcare needs of the Sauk County area, Sauk Prairie Healthcare recently surveyed the Sauk County area community. These findings, conducted by the organization every three years, were released with their 2022-2024 Community Health Care Needs Assessment (CHNA).
The CHNA involved gathering demographic and health statistics of the Sauk Prairie Healthcare (SPH) community after discussing issues with community leaders, organizations and the public and then prioritizing the unmet health needs of area residents. The CHNA will provide local healthcare providers with both a deeper understanding of community needs and guidance on how to meet those needs.
“We recognize that we cannot do everything,” said Ken Carlson, vice president of planning and business development at Sauk Prairie Healthcare, in reference to community needs. “What can we do now? Let’s do them. Who in our community is already doing work that we can collaborate with? Let’s form coalitions. Working together makes our community healthier.”
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Five priorities emerged from the study: mental health care; substance abuse; healthy lifestyles; social isolation and housing. Through the combined efforts of SPH, the Sauk County Health Department, SSM Health St. Clare Hospital, Reedsburg Area Medical Center and others, the new findings will help calibrate the efforts of healthcare professionals in the area to better serve the community serve -big. The Community Health Improvement Implementation Plan (CHIIP) was finalized in the spring to support this effort.
With approximately 43,000 residents in the SPH catchment area, there are many needs to be met. The area covers 700 square miles, including 12 zip codes and the Sauk Prairie, Lodi, Wisconsin Heights, and River Valley school districts. A primary source of information for the new assessment was Sauk County residents themselves. A 40-question survey was distributed across the region over a four-month period by the Sauk County Health and Wellness Steering Committee Data Council. 1,612 people took part in the survey.
Mental health has been identified as a key priority. The main concern is that local communities have limited or non-existent access to mental health facilities and providers. In addition, there was a call for more education and community awareness on mental health issues.
In 2018, Wisconsin County Health Rankings showed that Sauk County residents had an average of 4.3 mentally unhealthy days in the past 30 days. Statistics from the 2021 Sauk County Health and Wellness Coalition survey show that 30.4% of respondents report “challenges in obtaining mental health services.”
Carlson and SPH are focused on creating new ways to deliver behavioral health care, from children to the elderly.
“This is our best opportunity for greatest impact,” he said. Carlson noted that there is a shortage of services and current services cannot meet demand. He aims to improve these services in the years to come. “We can affect many people and affect those people deeply.”
Substance abuse was another important finding. The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths. Since 2000, drug overdose deaths nationwide have increased by 137%. There has been a 200% increase in opioid deaths since 2000. The Sauk County area is not immune to these problems.
Substance abuse is a broad category, from illegal drug addiction to vaping; excessive alcohol consumption to the abuse of prescription drugs. Currently, among adult Sauk County residents, 20% smoke and 28% drink heavily. According to the National Health Statistics-Mortality Files, between 2017 and 2019, there were 21 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in Sauk County.
A healthy lifestyle includes eating smarter and exercising more to help prevent chronic disease. Another important aspect of the new study is that obesity rates are increasing in the region. Obesity can lead to or complicate a variety of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer. According to County Health Rankings, the adult obesity rate in Sauk County is 35%.
The COVID pandemic has shed light on another health factor mentioned in the CHNA: social isolation. Minimal contact with others or limited participation in community life are associated with increased morbidity and early mortality. Research suggests that social isolation is similar to cigarette smoking in terms of health issues.
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Housing was the fifth key finding of the new report. Safe and affordable housing contributes to the health of the individual. 53.3% of Community Survey respondents “strongly disagree” or “disagree” that “there are enough safe, affordable homes in my community.”
All of these results will help Sauk Prairie Healthcare, other healthcare professionals, local organizations and like-minded individuals better serve the community. “We can always improve,” Carlson said, “but we can only improve if we really work together.”
The full 2022-2024 Healthcare Needs Assessment Report is available online here.