Stakeholders from around Harvey County came together Wednesday morning at Prairie View to discuss community health, both in terms of a needs assessment and creating an improvement plan to implement moving forward.

Newton Medical Center's Wesley Goodrich led the presentation on the needs assessment, noting information was taken from three different sources — statistical data, a countywide health survey and focus group responses — to identify needs and help shape future plans to address those needs. The last plan stakeholders agreed on lined out objectives of promoting health, wellness and chronic disease prevention, improving communication and collaboration between health care providers and focusing on youth.

Much of the criteria discussed Wednesday with regards to needs started with looking at the social determinants (i.e. environmental conditions in which people are born, play, live, learn, worship, etc.) of individuals' health.

"It really kind of takes into consideration that nature vs. nurture effect," Goodrich said.

Within those determinants, certain criteria were highlighted, like the number of students across the county eligible for free or reduced lunch (50.79 percent, slightly above the overall rate in Kansas), the percentage of rural population in Harvey County (30.92 percent, higher than the state's overall numbers) and specific health conditions—such as chronic disease, weight-related conditions and depression.

Data on the three chronic diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol) showed various patterns, with Harvey County having lower rates than both the state and the country in the first two, but the 39.4 percent of county residents with cholesterol issues was higher than the other rates based on data from communitycommons.com.

From 2011 to 2015, weight-related conditions also became a greater threat in Harvey County. According to data from Kansas Health Matters, 37.5 percent of adults in the county were overweight in 2013, with that total increasing to 38.1 percent in 2015. Obesity numbers spiked even more drastically, going from 28.7 percent in 2013 to 36.9 percent in 2015. Kansas' obesity rate is currently seventh highest in the U.S., with the county setting a goal to see that obesity rate cut to 30.5 percent by 2020.

"This is something we're definitely wanting to take into consideration," Goodrich said.

Looking at all age groups, depression was also a concern to stakeholders after seeing the data, with a recent increase both among the medicare population (much greater than the state and U.S. rates) and among youth.

Approaching all of the issues addressed in the data, access was a talking point that stakeholders kept coming back to, whether in regards to services provided or resources such as food. Making that access available to all community members, no matter the hurdles (i.e. rural life, poverty, etc.) is something all present on Wednesday agreed was important.

"If people can't get there, who cares," said Tobias Harkins, assistant director of the Harvey County Health Department. "They're worthless."

Responses from the Harvey County community health survey illustrated concerns about accessibility and availability as well, while it also showed an increase from the last survey in the number of individuals who noted there was a time in the past 12 months they could not access prescription medication due to cost (11.1 percent in 2013 to 21.8 percent in 2016).

Participants in the survey helped to shape the discussion of the follow-up focus groups, with both noting a variety of issues in Harvey County. Goodrich noted it was a positive sign seeing that engagement and some of the concerns brought up were some of the same addressed by the stakeholders at Wednesday's meeting.

Discussion from all parties was sought to help form the next community health improvement plan for Harvey County and as ideas were shared by stakeholders, common themes started to emerge.

Transportation and helping provide access (to services, resources, etc.) was brought up by multiple stakeholders, as was the idea of addressing the issues of obesity.

"It hits all age groups. It hits all sectors," said Matthew Schmidt, Executive Director of Health Ministries Clinic. "It's really one that a community could get behind."

Given the recent addition of the YMCA and other outlets, there is a perceived push for healthier lifestyle changes and "good momentum to build on," as Harvey County FACS extension agent Anne Pitts put it.

Hard as it may be to narrow focus to just a handful of issues, Health Department Director Lynnette Redington noted that was the goal of the day. The stakeholders were brought together to achieve that goal and she noted the information will be made available to the public through libraries, newspapers and at harveycounty.com to continue gathering input on community needs.

Obesity and well-being, transportation and mental/behavioral health were ultimately decided as the main priorities of the next community health improvement plan, a plan that will be finalized over the next few months. While some objectives were set aside for the time being, Newton Medical Center Director of Quality and Analytics Malea Hartbickson noted certain ones—like communication—are inherent to helping Harvey County come together to achieve its goals, as collaboration remains crucial.

"As a community," Hartbickson said, "if we're all rowing the boat in the same direction, we're more likely to get to our destination."