Members of the Montana Office of Rural Health held a focus group on Thursday in Plains and Friday in Thompson Falls to discuss the major health concerns of the county. All comments were to be kept anonymous and will be used to collect data intended to implement improvements.
According to Project Coordinator Angela Bangs, the assessment is a tool for officials to familiarize themselves with individual communities.
“A big part of the assessment is to understand the major health needs in the area,” Bangs said.
The Montana Office of Rural Health is not only utilizing the assessment but are also sending out a survey to random members of the community in order to gain as much information as possible. The survey is simple to fill out and is worthwhile.
The survey should be arriving at the end of the month. It is six pages long and is designed to take no longer than 15 minutes to fill out.
“We really encourage people to fill it out,” Bangs said. “It will be on the Clark Fork Valley Hospital letter head. We will be sending out a couple hundred and are hoping for at least 30 percent back.”
The Montana Office of Rural Health and the Rural Health Resource Center based out of Duluth, Minnesota will use the survey along with the information gathered from the focus groups in order to conduct a longitudinal analysis. The process is being funded through Frontier Medicine Better Health Partnership.
According to Bangs, the last survey was completed around 2008. She believes the comparison between the then and now findings should be illuminating.
The statistical analysis will take several months to complete but once the findings are definitive they will be available to the public.
Bangs and co-workers have traveled all over the state to at least 20 different places in the past year. The ultimate goal, she said, is to have 25 of these assessments join together.
The combined statistics are still a while off. For now, the intention is to focus on individual counties and their specific needs.
Once the findings are finalized, the last step of the process is implementation.
Bangs and other officials will come and facilitate the implementation with the CFVH senior members. They will go over the report together and determine what the top health needs are, what changes will be top priority, and a plan will be developed and executed.
“Then they have to come up with a plan and if they don’t make the change they have to have justification as to why,” Bangs said. “For example, many people want chemotherapy or dialysis but small hospitals can’t always afford to do that.”
The hospital will then work with the needs they are willing to address and will have a three year timeline to accomplish the set plan.
Bangs hopes they will meet their goal of at least 30 percent return of the survey in order to yield the most accurate information.
“The more people who respond, the more representative the data will be of the community and that will help the hospital,” Bangs said.
Implementing change can be a long process but in the end the work is worthwhile. Bangs is eager to see the plan through.
“We are looking forward to continuing to work with the community,” Bangs said.