On May 26, the Cole Memorial Board of Directors approved a plan studied and authored by the newly created Northern Tier Community Collaborative. Chaired by Cole’s Trustee Alanna Huck, the Collaborative brought together 40 professionals from 25 agencies representing Cameron, McKean, Potter and Tioga counties to research, prioritize and organize a community health needs assessment based on 1,282 surveys completed by area residents and secondary data on the region from agencies like the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Judge John Leete, vice chair of Cole’s Community Health Council reported to the Board of Directors that the recommendations within the plan suggest that mental health, substance abuse and obesity should be the focus of the communities’ efforts over the next three years.
In introducing the plan to the Cole Directors, Judge Leete said, “The suggested focus of the plan, especially in terms of substance abuse and access to mental health, is certainly relevant to the needs that I see in my work. This is hugely important to our communities and to the work of Cole Memorial.”
The Northern Tier Community Health Collaborative is envisioned to be a vehicle through which efforts to improve the health of communities across the region by multiple agencies and Cole Memorial are coordinated to produce the largest impact. During the recent Cole Board meeting, it was also announced that a federal grant through Rural Health Network Development Planning Program of $100,000 was recently awarded to Cole to support the development of the Collaborative and implement its multipronged plan.
Ms. Huck echoed the words of Judge Leete and added how impressed she was with the contributions made by community leaders over the past year as the plan was studied, actions were identified and projected outcomes were assessed. “I have great expectations for the Northern Tier Community Collaborative. The needs are many and complex but together we can make a difference.”
A year ago, leaders of Cole Memorial knew they needed to produce a new three-year community health needs assessment for the hospital to meet federal regulations. Instead of doing the work internally with its leaders, staff and providers, Cole decided to ask the community to get involved and instead played the role of convener and facilitator.
“I’m proud of the work of our organization,” said Ed Pitchford, President and CEO of Cole Memorial. “Not only do we have a well thought and important plan for improving the lives of the citizens of this region, momentum has also been created by the community leaders who want to see our communities be great places to live. The newly formed Northern Tier Community Health Collaborative will play an important role in the future to help address pressing health problems that impact individuals and communities. I’m confident that under Alanna Huck’s leadership as the Chair and with the resources now available through the Rural Health Network Development Planning Program grant this new endeavor’s impact will be noticed over the years.”
Understanding the health needs in the community allows Cole Memorial to design and implement effective strategies in coordination with other agencies and providers. Each of the three identified priorities will be facilitated by a key leader in the region. Jessica Rohrer, Coudersport Area School District nurse and Rich Neefe, Coudersport Area School District food services director will oversee the Obesity, Physical Inactivity and Nutrition focus group; Heidi Eastman, Potter County operations manager for Dickinson Center, Inc. heads up the mental health focus group and Colleen Wilber, Drugs and Alcohol administrator for Potter County Human Services will manage the substance abuse focus group.
Over the course of the next three years, these three committees will be committed to enhancing the culture of health for our communities by promoting healthy lifestyle, improving access to integrated, holistic behavioral health care and substance abuse services.
Kari Kurtz, director of Community and Employer Relations at Cole Memorial, in presenting the plan to the Cole Board of Directors emphasized that improving community health has become one of the highest priorities for Cole Memorial. “The Cole Memorial Medical Group and the entire staff of our health system are focused on this effort starting with improving their own health through our workplace wellness programs. We see Cole as the leader by example for others in the region to make health part of their cultures. This is a lot of work and will take time for a heightened culture of health to emerge in our communities but it is necessary work.”
The full community health needs assessment report will be available on Cole Memorial’s Facebook and website at www.colememorial.org by June 30, 2016.