Critical health needs identified

By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun

Earlier this year the Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD) conducted a study of the health care condition of local residents so it could identify the types of future services most needed in the Kern River Valley (KRV). Results of the study were presented to the KVHD Board of Directors at its meeting on September 5.

A consulting firm reviewed local, county, and state data and reported that Kern County residents had some of the poorest health outcomes in the state. No other county in the state has more unhealthy behavior, lack of care, and unfavorable social and economic conditions. Kern County has the highest death rate for diabetes and one of the worst death rates from heart and respiratory diseases and drug abuse. The local KRV area shows results similar to the county as a whole.

Knowing the challenges that are facing its service population, KVHD conducted a community survey with over 250 respondents, held two focus groups, and interviewed 25 healthcare professionals to identify the most urgent priorities for health improvement in the local KRV area.

Among other results, the community identified drug abuse as the most important health issue and one of the leading causes of poor health (along with poverty). The public advised KVHD to focus on improving access to drug abuse treatment and to provide more primary and specialty care providers. Dialysis was identified as the most needed service, as well as needing improved access to care for VA and Kaiser patients.

Using study results and with the assistance of a healthcare needs steering committee, KVHD chose three healthcare priorities on which to concentrate its resources over the next three years. These priorities are behavioral healthcare, diabetes, and primary care. By concentrating on these three broad priorities, KVHD believes many other health needs will be addressed at the same time. For instance, drug abuse issues can be improved through the behavioral healthcare efforts.

Strategies for improving access to behavioral healthcare are to expand access to mental health professionals through the telemedicine program, provide more services for children, add a day hospital program, and develop additional treatment options for patients with mental illness paired with substance abuse.
Plans for improving health of residents with diabetes are to provide more nutrition counseling, add a Diabetic Management Clinic, improve access to specialists through telemedicine, and work toward local provision of retinal scans.

Strategies for improving access to local primary care services are to increase the number of primary care physicians, add a possible rural health and urgent care clinic in Lake Isabella, and provide school-based or mobile health clinics.

KVHD is already in the process of expanding or evaluating additional services for patients. These include inpatient dialysis, outpatient lab, x-ray, mammography, ultrasound, urgent care, and expanded access to services for residents with VA, Kaiser, or BFMC coverage. Provision of transportation options, including use of the hospital van, are being explored.
At its meeting on September 5, the Board of Directors unanimously approved the 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment report which allows KVHD to move forward in developing an implementation plan for each of the prioritized health goals.

KVHD welcomes feedback from the community to help guide it in this effort to meet community needs. “We invite you to review our plan, provide feedback and join us in creating a healthier community,” writes CEO Tim McGlew in a letter presented to the community in the final report.

The report will be available soon on the KVHD website at https://www.kvhd.org, or paper copies can be obtained from Deborah Hess in the KVHD Public Affairs office or by request at deborahhess@kvhd.org and (760) 379-5257 ext. 24.