Access to affordable health care, a lack of primary care physicians and the prevalence of chronic disease continue to pose problems for residents of Pettis and Benton counties.
Those were the key findings of a community health needs assessment released this week conducted by Bothwell Regional Health Center. The assessment, based on 401 completed surveys by residents of Pettis and Benton counties — the hospital’s primary coverage area — and secondary information from health care providers, social service agencies and previously published studies, comes as part of a federally-mandated requirement of the Affordable Care Act.
Sarah Nail, BRHC community outreach coordinator, said the study was done in partnership with Katy Trail Community Health, Pettis County Health Center and other community stakeholders who help provide regional health care services.
“We have to do that in partnership,” Nail said. “The whole point of the study is ultimately to use the findings to improve the community’s health. That is not just a mission of Bothwell, but also a mission of a lot of partners in the health care industry and social service agencies. Everybody has a role when it comes to the health of our community.”
On the issue of access to care, the study found that about 20 percent of Pettis and Benton county residents are uninsured, compared to a state average of 15 percent.
In addition to affordable health care, the lack of primary care and dental services paints a stark picture as rural areas continue to struggle with attracting and retaining new providers.
In Pettis, there is one primary care physician for every 2,348 people; and one per 2,389 in Benton County. The state average ratio is one per 1,495.
For dental care the numbers rise significantly in Benton County, where there is only one dentist per 6,451 residents, while in Pettis the number falls to one per 2,695. The state average is one per 2,168 people.
According to those surveyed for the assessment, 14 percent of respondents reported they or a member of their family had trouble finding a doctor within the last two years; of those, 60 percent said they were unable to find a physician who would accept new patients.
“We know access to care is an issue in our community and we all try to work together as much as possible to improve that. This just confirms for us what we already knew, but our hope is that by bringing it to the public’s attention, it will help elevate the need for everybody to have a focus on health at a community level,” Nail said.
That lack of access has prompted BRHC to begin adding hospital-employed physicians and specialized practices and was a contributing factor in Katy Trail Community Health’s Harbor Village partnership, Nail said.
That lack of access tends to drive people to seek medical attention in BRHC’s emergency department. In 2012, the ED saw 24,848 patients, though of these only 10 percent required admission to the hospital for treatment. Some 400 people sought emergency dental care at BRHC last year, ranking fifth among the top diagnoses in the ED.
While treatment for physical health needs was found to be an issue of concern, access to mental health services proved to be overwhelming. In Pettis, there is one mental health care provider for every 6,038 residents, while in Benton that number jumps to one provider per 19,108 residents.
The study also found that obesity and smoking and related chronic diseases such as COPD, cancer, diabetes and heart disease contribute to local health care needs.
Pettis County has a smoking rate of 29 percent, compared to a state average of 23 percent.
Obesity and lack of exercise were also identified as area of concern, with an adult obesity rate of 29 percent in Pettis County.
Nail said the study tended to confirm what service providers already knew, but will hopefully provide a baseline for a comprehensive effort to improve the overall health of the community.
“The hope is that we can now take that information and develop some implementation strategies as we move forward,” Nail said.
The complete study is available online at brhc.org, or printed copies may be requested by calling BRHC Community Outreach at 827-9138.