Montgomery County

Survey to study health needs

St. Mary’s Healthcare is conducting an in-depth assessment to identify the health care needs of resi

St. Mary’s Healthcare is conducting an in-depth assessment to identify the health care needs of residents in Fulton and Montgomery counties and expand primary care services to the community.

The assessment will use a survey and focus groups to develop a sophisticated medical profile of the community, examining people’s health habits and ability to access health care, among other data.

St. Mary’s will use the data to upgrade existing medical services and develop new services and new ways to deliver services, said Jerri Cortese, director of community relations.

“This is taking a fresh look at the needs of the community,” she said.

The hospital will incorporate the data into its strategic and outreach plans for the next three years, said Julie Pierce, director of community benefits and outreach.

“This type of assessment measures a lot of different dimensions of health, such as obesity, diabetes, availability of transportation, accessibility of medical services; it is a broad area,” she said.

St. Mary’s will share the data with community agencies, such as the Office for the Aging and Centro Civico, Cortese said. “We are not expecting to respond to community needs solely,” she said.

For example, the assessment may identify that people have a problem obtaining medical services because of a lack of transportation. St. Mary’s would then work with an agency to help people obtain transportation or improve their access, she said.

St. Mary’s has conducted community needs assessments before, but never to this level of detail and with this level of impartiality, Cortese said.

The medical facility has hired Professional Research Consultants of Omaha, Neb., to conduct the survey. PRC is seeking a representative sample of 750 people from Fulton and Montgomery counties, which is St. Mary’s service area, for the survey. The company states that the sample will have a confidence level of 95 percent or higher, meaning it will be fairly representative of the community in terms of demographics and accuracy.

“We want to obtain an objective analysis,” Pierce said.

PRC will conduct the survey through November, calling people on their landlines and cellphones. Representatives will ask participants approximately 200 questions and the survey will take about 20 minutes to complete.

The community needs assessment is required by the federal Affordable Care Act, which became law in 2010 and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court this year. As part of the law, tax-exempt hospitals are required to conduct the community needs assessment every three years, to create a plan to address the identified needs and to report on their progress.

Hospitals have to submit their plans next year. Failure to produce a plan could result in a fine of up to $50,000.

As envisioned by ACA, the plans will help increase the availability of primary care health care services to people, Cortese said. “The great hope of ACA is that people will get a basic level of insurance and that they will see a primary care physician before they get so sick that they have to go to the emergency room for help,” she said. “ACA’s goal is to develop a network of primary care services and make them more accessible and convenient.”

Pierce said the assessment is in keeping with St. Mary’s mission as a Catholic hospital.

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