Second assessment of Mohave County's health is under way

Note: This is the first in a two-part series on the Mohave County Community Health Assessment now under way.

KINGMAN - When Mohave County and Kingman Regional Medical Center teamed up in 2011 to develop a community health assessment, the idea was to put in the minimum effort needed to meet a requirement of the federal Affordable Care Act.

But then they realized how badly the county needed the assessment and "decided to take it a little further than we were required to do," said Teri Williams, the director of communications and marketing at the hospital.

KRMC was required to perform the assessment for the Kingman area due to its status as the only nonprofit hospital in Mohave County. The assessment was a necessary task if KRMC wanted to maintain its nonprofit status with the IRS.

The county was required to do one for all of the county, as well as a community health improvement plan. The first was completed three years ago. The second assessment began last Monday with the hiring of Pinnacle Prevention, a consulting firm that specializes in preparing community health assessments.

"This was so badly needed," said Williams of that first assessment. "We never took a look at it before." The report was completed in 2013. It involved primary and secondary data, from the Centers for Disease Control, for example, as well as accident and trauma statistics from the Arizona Department of Transportation. The big element that year, as will be the case again this year beginning in May, was a public survey.

The 2013 survey took health care professionals off guard. While they considered the county's "off the charts" high smoking rate as the No. 1 health concern - and correlating "off the charts" lung cancer rates, as Williams described it - the public considered drug addiction the issue most in need of addressing.

"They looked at social issues and we looked at true health issues," said Williams. On one key fact they all agreed: Mohave County could certainly be healthier.

Another fact, said Williams, is that representatives from more than 50 entities got involved in the process early on, and nearly all of them remain involved and enthused.

The process is ongoing and the assessment looks at a multitude of health indicators, said Williams. She remains a huge supporter.

"The vision, I have to say, is beautiful," she said." This isn't just an assessment. The next phase is a health improvement plan."

To get there, Williams and Patty Mead, director of the county's health department, helped establish a series of task forces to focus on five key issues that cropped up during the last assessment.

• Substance abuse - including tobacco

• Mental health

• Access to affordable health care

• Economic conditions

• Youth risk

While KRMC and the Mohave County Department of Public Health lead the effort, the assessment is largely driven by the public through the task forces, which are filled with residents and members of the community.

Williams made it clear the task forces are autonomous and they receive no input from either KRMC or the county health department.

"They have literally signed a commitment to lead," she said. "And to develop goals and objectives. That work began in November.

"We're not trying to save the world and we know we're not going to solve all the problems," said Williams.

What they are doing is putting the right people on the right task force. Those involved in youth issues, for example come from the school districts, the Arizona Youth Partnership, Mohave Mental Health and boys and girls clubs.

The collaboration, said Williams, represents the "biggest benefit" to the effort. "We learn about each other," she said. "We know we have limited resources and so we collaborate so we don't have two groups trying to do the same thing competing for the same grants."

The new assessment must be completed by June and it will be used as a guide for another three years.

Planning is a never-ending, always evolving task, said Williams, but there is a sense of urgency to develop "reasonable and achievable" goals and objectives. "However, we're dealing with issues so big, they're not within anyone's real control" she said. "Making a dent is not a simple thing to do and we have a lot of issues.

Williams also said it will be difficult to improve the county's overall health because so many of the problems are due to personal choices. Smoking, drinking to excess, abusing drugs.

"And so we need to look at what we can control," said Williams. "Is there urgency? Yes, because people are dying. There are a lot of things we can do. Better communication, for sure. We can help get resources or leverage the resources we have. This isn't an effort where we just talk. What we really have is many very caring people trying to help."

Williams said she hopes the public focuses on health issues during this assessment, if only as it regards smoking and the "devastating impact" the habit has on society, not just smokers. Heart disease is the nation's No. 1 killer, she said. "I don't want to lessen the community's perspectives. I think in general there are facts to consider on the social side, but we're talking about true health issues. We're not just talking about health care, though. We're talking about our quality of life. We're talking health - physical, emotional and spiritual."