Statewide study identifies Hawaii's top health concerns

Statewide study identifies Hawaii's top health concerns
Published: Jul. 3, 2013 at 9:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly every single hospital in the state took part in a nine month study to identify Hawai'i's top health issues.  Officials say the results will dramatically improve the access and quality of care provided to everyone who lives here.

For the first time ever, officials say they state has a clear and comprehensive picture of Hawai'i's biggest health concerns and they're crediting the Affordable Care Act, which requires every private, non-profit hospital to examine the communities they serve, figure out what their most prevalent health issues are and create an action plan to address them.

Heart failure and bacterial pneumonia are among the top three health issues in Hawai'i, but officials say the number one concern is mental health.

"Mental health is a crisis," described Dr. Ginny Pressler, Vice President of Hawai'i Pacific Health.

Health providers say there has been a 20% increase in patients hospitalized for mental health treatment in recent years.  They say cuts to community programs in order to save money are to blame.

"That actually increased the total cost of care for the state as a whole because we had a lot of patients not getting the help that they needed to keep them out of trouble, so then they ended up in the emergency rooms and the hospitals which is a much more costly form of care, and it's bad quality and outcomes for these individuals as well," explained Dr. Pressler.

Officials say their findings confirm the importance of approaching health care from what they refer to as the mauka makai model. Instead of the focus being on acute care, they say the priority needs to shift to community-based efforts that address the treatable and preventable diseases landing people in the hospital.

"It's a major transformation in our whole perception of what health and healthcare is all about and recognizing there's so much we can do within the community and with social factors and the environment, what we do in our schools and our churches and our workplace in order to improve the health of our population," said Dr. Pressler.  "The objective here is to not only reduce costs, but to improve outcome so that we have people having a better quality of life and better health."

Hawai'i is one of only two states in the nation that worked in collaboration to conduct a statewide community health assessment.  26 of the state's 28 hospitals participated in the study. Tripler Army Medical Center and the Hawai'i State Hospital did not, but officials say the Affordable Care Act mandate does not apply to them.

"As a result of this program working on a statewide basis, we're going to be able to look at best practices from across the state," described George Greene, Healthcare Association of Hawai'i's President and CEO.  "We're going to share it with each other, which ultimately is going to improve population health for the entire state."

Officials say this year's findings will serve as the benchmark on which programs will measure their success.  All private, non-profit hospitals will be required to conduct a community health assessment every three years.

"Every three years they're going to look at this assessment and say, 'How can we continue to work together as a state to improve the health for all of the people in the state of Hawai'i?'  That's unique.  It's a powerful statement, and I think that people should know that no matter the health care providers of this state believe in making sure they have access to care and make sure that they have high quality care," said Greene.

Pinpointing the state's top health issues enables officials to focus funding efforts to address them, like a recent USDA program to improve nutrition in schools, which is another key concern statewide.

"Kihei Charter school in Maui was the first school in the state to get certified and it has opened the doors for other Hawaii schools to follow, which also lead to Hawaii DOE receiving a $200,000 federal grant," explained Joy Barua, Kaiser Permanente's Director of Community Benefit and Health Policy.

State representative Della Au Belatti says the findings from this study will serve as an important tool for lawmakers, adding that policy making will be a key element to the state's success in addressing these top health concerns.

Officials say this study creates a landmark partnership between health care providers and the state's public health agency.

"I think this is one of the first times where we have worked so closely and intensely together for a common purpose and the common purpose is really to improve the health of our people in Hawaii," said Loretta Fuddy, the Hawaii State Health Director.

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