Altru, local groups identify community health issuesAfter almost a year of study, local agencies are discussing how to address the Grand Forks community’s biggest health issues.
By: John Hageman, Grand Forks Herald
After almost a year of study, local agencies are discussing how to address the Grand Forks community’s biggest health issues.
In July, the Altru Health System board of directors approved a community health assessment that identified five “priority areas for improvement” that they and other agencies are focusing its attention. An implementation plan to address obesity, access to mental health services, financial barriers to health care and other issues will be completed later this year.
The assessment, a study that involved a group of education, health and non-profit groups, included gathering data and focus groups. Altru is taking the lead in finding ways to reduce the area’s obesity rate, which the study found was 31 percent for adults.
“We’re still working on figuring out what it is what we’re going to do,” said Audrey Lorenz, planning lead for Altru. “But we have some ideas.”
A lead agency to address access to mental health services, poverty’s impact on health and financial barriers to health care access has not been identified, Lorenz said. The Community and Campus Committee on High-Risk Alcohol Use, a joint effort by the city of Grand Forks and UND, will address the binge/excessive drinking issue, Lorenz added.
Dennis Reisnour, Altru’s chief planning executive, pointed to investments in the Choice Health and Fitness facility and incentives for Altru employees that use a gym as things the company is already doing to encourage fitness. What it will do in the future is still uncertain, he added.
“I think we’re going to see more of an effort to encourage people to change their lifestyles,” Reisnour said.
A similar community health assessment was completed in the 1990s, Reisnour said. He said one of the most visible programs that came out of that study was to address smoking and alcohol use by students at Grand Forks schools.
“We really saw a real steady and really impressive decrease in those choices that kids were making” Reisnour said.
Lorenz said that while it wasn’t represented in their five priority areas for improvement, Altru plans to address a high rate of late-stage colon cancer diagnosis and relatively low rate of colonoscopy screenings. The study shows more than 32 percent of adults age 50 and older in Grand Forks County have never had a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
Reisnour said that effort involves making the public more aware of the importance of getting a screening, working with physicians to “make them a little bit more assertive in terms of counseling their patients,” and addressing financial barriers to getting a screening.
“If you look at the statistics, the probability of surviving five years is 12 times as great if you’re diagnosed at stage one, as it is if you’re diagnosed at stage four,” Reisnour said. “So we think it’s an important issue for our community and our region.”
Debbie Swanson, the nursing and nutrition supervisor at the Grand Forks Public Health Department, said she hopes the assessment process will spur some public involvement.
“We really hope that through the community assessment and the community health improvement plan…that there will be some benefit to the community and people will get on board with helping us address some of the issues,” Swanson said.
Call Hageman at (701) 780-1244, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1244 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.