Many prominent members of the community are working hard to improve the health of the people of Cass County. These community members came together at Ivy Tech’s Logansport campus on Wednesday to form teams and brainstorm.
The meeting, called Indiana’s Health Opportunities for People Everywhere (I-HOPE) and hosted by the Purdue Extension in Cass County, was chaired by I-HOPE Senior Health Equity Analyst Silvia Saxena, Catalyst for Equity-Focused Education and Health Systems Change Beth Elmore, and Agriculture and Natural Resources and Community Development Educator Krista Bolin.
Index cards, highlighters, and various other office supplies were stacked in the middle of round tables scattered throughout the room. The meeting began with a working lunch, introductions, and icebreakers. Participants were asked about the most useful innovations in their lives, and answers ranged from cruise control to coffee jugs and magic erasers.
Blake Wood, director of public policy and grant management at Indianapolis-based consultancy TechServ, provided information about the “Together We Will” grants. The original funding came from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the grants themselves are distributed to entities working on community projects by the Indiana Department of Health.
Together, we’ll give beneficiaries can apply for up to $7,500 for projects that address health priority areas. These areas include mental health and violence, access to health care, COVID-19 vaccine frequency, systemic barriers to receiving health care, substance use disorders, and infant and maternal mortality rates.
Wood explained that his company can help organizations apply for the grant in a way that is less confusing and more efficient.
“We have a lot of experience working with organizations that apply for grants,” he said. “We thought, ‘How can we improve this process?'” How can it be more accessible for those organizations that may want to apply for a grant? What we did was create an easy-to-use program so that it would be easy to follow the application itself when placing an order.”
He added that anyone who would like assistance with requests should contact him. IDOH will continue to receive grant applications through June 2023, but Wood said IDOH and the CDC are considering extending the program for another year.
Information about the Together We Work grants was relevant to the community members gathered at the I-HOPE meeting because they are divided into groups with different focus areas related to health. The groups include areas such as health care access, awareness and resource mapping, community education, mental health, access to social services and information sharing stations.
These groups are eligible to apply for grants together to help implement community health initiatives. Vice President of Planning and Development at Logansport Memorial Hospital Vicki Baird discussed how the hospital is currently in the process of submitting a grant proposal to train language translators in an eight-week program. The proposal received a letter of support from the Minority Health Coalition of Indiana.
After Wood finished his presentation, Bird updated the room on assessing the hospital’s community health needs. She explained that the top three areas of concern — mental health, access to health care and substance abuse — have remained in the top three for several years.
With regard to mental health, the evaluation found that the prevalence of mental health struggles has increased. Of the 500 phone calls to Cass County residents, 18% of people interviewed indicated their mental health was fair or poor, and 22% said they had been diagnosed with depression. Those rates have risen and are above state averages, Baird said.
Barriers to seeking mental health help in Cass County include difficulty in timely access and a shortage of mental health care providers.
In addition, suicide rates continued to rise in the county, particularly among women, youth, and people living in poverty. Barriers to accessing public health care include a lack of caregivers, language barriers, finding a primary care physician, uncomfortable working hours, and high drug costs.
About 61% of respondents indicated that they or someone close to them suffers from drug abuse. The evaluation determined that there is currently a shortage of treatment facilities within the county and that there is a need for increased education and awareness about drug use.
It can be frustrating to see how far the county still has to go in terms of meeting the health needs of the community, Baird said. However, she added, it is important to remember the progress that has been made.
“I just feel like we’re doing all this work and not making much progress,” she said. “But, on the other hand, I know that when you think about some of the things we’ve done in various fields over the past five years in the hospital, we’ve created a very successful (programming). You have to stop and look back.”
After Baird presented the results of the community health needs assessment, each of the I-HOPE groups provided the rest of the room with a brief update on the work they had accomplished so far. The mental health group has discussed the idea of hosting a technology fair to educate and inform parents of local students while the social services group plans to meet people where they are and promote health screenings and resources.
Another notable group was the group that focused on providing community health solutions. Chuck Grabel, Pioneer Regional School Corporation, said the group is coordinating with several outside agencies and plans to meet with front- and mid-line users to determine what these people are hearing and give them advice.
Grabel added that the group has a strong base but is struggling to receive updated information from other organizations. The group’s next steps include finding the healthcare gaps that need to be filled and deciding how to engage other agencies in the process. Some groups made more progress than others, and Saxena, Elmore and Pauline gave attendees the option to switch groups or join an entirely new group to discuss and improve infant and maternal mortality rates.
The remainder of the meeting was devoted to planning between groups. Attendees discussed how they could advance their goals of improving the health of residents at the county level in their specific focus areas.
“There were originally only four of us on our committee, so it’s almost too much for just four,” Grabel said of his group. “The more hands, the better. We are open if someone is really interested because we are not far from the road. We are still adapting.”
There is no easy solution to any of the problems that Cass County I-HOPE teams address, but community leaders involved in the projects are dedicated to making an impact.
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