The Recorder – Health professionals talk about Franklin County’s priority needs

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In a presentation to health professionals on Thursday as part of the Community Health Needs Assessment, youth mental health, shortage of health care providers and lack of affordable housing were identified as the needs priority health programs for Franklin County and the North Quabbin area.

The community health needs assessment is mandatory for any nonprofit hospital to complete every three years to ensure needs are met in the communities they serve, explained Phoebe Walker, co-chair of the advisory committee on Community Benefits and Director of Community Services with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG).

“It’s a way of partnering with all the different community organizations to collect data from them, hear their thoughts and feedback, and put it into a report that a lot of us end up using, not just people. hospitals,” Walker said.

Youth Mental Health

Walker said the process — which included a regional advisory committee that interviewed public health officials across the county, focus groups, interview sessions and community conversations — involved taking reports from the last year and update them with quantitative and qualitative data. Ultimately, a report will be finalized in the fall for distribution, and its findings will allow hospitals and insurers to prioritize funding to meet the community’s most important needs.

Of the eight hospitals and insurers that are part of the Coalition of Western Massachusetts Hospitals – Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Cooley Dickinson Health Care in Northampton, Shriners Hospitals for Children in Springfield, Berkshire Health System and Health New England – all identified youth mental health as a primary goal, according to Amanda Doster, lead author of the community health needs assessment.

In addition to hospitals and insurers, the FRCOG, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, the Collaborative for Educational Services and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission participated in this year’s assessment.

“The Western Mass COVID and Community Impact Survey looked at youth mental health, and some of the findings were that youth mental health was extremely impacted by COVID,” Doster said. “Rates of anxiety and depression have increased among young people.”

Although these findings are the result of a study of young people from across western Massachusetts, the results match data from Franklin County and North Quabbin, she said.

“What we’ve seen is that 45% of young people are feeling sad or hopeless more frequently than usual over the past 12 months,” Doster explained. “And among people suffering from (post-traumatic stress) reactions to COVID, young people with disabilities, young LGBTQIA people, young women and people living in rural areas show these symptoms at higher rates than their peers.

Using historical data from FRCOG’s Communities That Care Coalition, a survey of all eighth, tenth and twelfth graders showed that 2021 had historic rates of depression and anxiety among young people.

“All hospitals have chosen to create this primary youth mental health goal, and we will all work together to meet it,” Walker added. “Once these reports are completed for all hospitals, there will be a regional youth mental health report and regional metrics that hospitals, insurers and community partners will work on together. … We realize that just documenting this is not enough.

Scarcity of suppliers

Closer to home, Doster noted that shortages of health care providers and lack of affordable housing have become priorities in Franklin County and the North Quabbin area.

“Our rates for doctors, dentists and other primary care providers are all unfavorable compared to state rates,” Doster said, “and in some cases have even worsened over the past three years. .”

According to county health rankings and roadmaps, Franklin County had a patient-to-provider ratio of 1,280 to 1 in 2019; in 2022, that ratio increased to 1,530 to 1. By comparison, the state average in 2022 was 960 to 1.

The new family medicine residency program at Baystate Franklin — whose interns began Thursday — aims to address that problem, noted Ronald Bryant, president and CEO of Baystate Franklin. Four residencies per year will be offered to begin with, so in the first three years there will be 12 registered participants.

Meanwhile, the ratio of mental health care providers was more favorable compared to the state and has even improved in recent years, Doster said. In 2022, there was a patient-to-provider ratio of 110 to 1 in Franklin County, compared to 180 to 1 in the state.

“However, participants in our focus groups repeatedly reiterated how difficult it is to navigate wait lists and referral systems to access care,” Doster said. “So even when it’s better than the state rate, what we’re hearing across the board is people have to drive to Springfield, drive to Fitchburg or Gardner or Leominster, and navigating this remains a challenge, particularly for people who do not have access to transport to leave the area for care.

Walker added that it’s important to note that not all providers included in the data accept MassHealth.

affordable housing

Finally, the lack of affordable housing was highlighted as a priority need.

“Housing is considered affordable when a household spends no more than 30% of their income on housing, including utilities,” Doster explained. “By this measure, about one-third of households in our region are cost-burdened. In our region, 16% of additional households are heavily cost-burdened, where they spend more than half of their income on housing. »

She noted that the housing stock in the area, because it is rural, is lower than elsewhere.

“The explosion of short-term rentals and Airbnbs has taken even more homes off the market,” Doster said, noting that’s not necessarily unique to Franklin County and the North Quabbin area. “Without more buildings and more resources, prices will continue to rise and people’s ability to live here will decline.”

Walker said the data collected as part of the report is being finalized and that with respect to youth mental health, the Western Massachusetts Hospital Coalition will work as a region to create a summary on youth mental health. Individual reports on the focus groups will also be written.

“We are committed to working together to figure out what we can solve,” she said, “and also spending time listening more to young people.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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