Almost a year after Highlands Hospital in Connellsville conducted a community survey to identify the current health needs of the area, officials there are taking the key findings and beginning the work towards community concerns.

“We value the community health needs reporting requirement as an important tool to provide intense focus on the needs of the communities that we serve and to demonstrate the depth of our commitment to address those needs for our patients and the community,” said Highlands Hospital CEO, John Andursky, who noted that the hospital is required to conduct the survey every three years as dictated by the IRS due to the hospital’s nonprofit status.

Director of Development, Vicki Meier, said mental/behavioral health and substance abuse were the top two identified health needs by the stakeholders interviewed for the Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA).

Several measures have already been taken to address these health needs, Meier said, including creating a behavioral health referral network with primary care physicians. Highlands officials have also developed a telepsychiatry program, a form of video conferencing that can provide psychiatric services to patients.

Officials at the hospital have also been working toward an increased awareness and skills of all staff and community members regarding behavioral health, including expanding autism services in alliance with Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism.

“Over the last three years, Highlands Hospital’s Regional Center for Autism, which is a licensed site of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism, has been able to support additional students with daily ADA Programming as part of their year-round school program, which brings enrollment to 30 students,” Meier said.

The hospital also purchased the former Zachariah Connell School to expand the autism center size to be able to enroll up to 70 students. The renovations were completed in August of 2018, and the new Regional Center/School for Autism opened its doors at the Center for Health & Community Impact located at 700 Park Street in Connellsville.

“Students attending Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism receive services in all areas of their academics, functional living skills, communication, socialization and behavior,” Andursky said.

“Thanks to the generous donation by John and Diane Carom, owner of Abby’s Gold & Gems in Uniontown, we are now incorporating more off-site recreational day camp experiences called ‘Evan’s Destination Day Camp’ for our students,” he added.

The Highlands Hospital Opioid Center of Excellence (OCE), which began in February 2017, is one of 45 statewide Pennsylvania Department of Human Services grant-funded programs to address the opioid crisis.

Meier said the Hub and Spoke program model assures that Highlands Hospital (as the hub) is working within the community to link individuals with community services and treatment program (the spokes).

Data from the survey also showed that over one in four (27.2 percent) focus group participants and 11.6 percent of community survey respondents rated their personal health as “fair or poor.”

In conjunction, over half (57.5 percent) rated the overall health of the community as “fair or poor” and many focus group participants reported experiencing diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and thyroid problems.

“In response, we continue to educate primary care physicians about the Highlands Hospital Center for Diabetes and all the services provided, and we have also reached out to the community to help educate them on diabetes,” Meier said.

The hospital has also recently partnered with West Virginia University’s Heart & Vascular Institute.

“WVU’s presence at Highlands Hospital reinforces the hospital’s commitment of ensuring coordinated comprehensive care close to home,” Meier said.

Hospital officials have also implemented a non-invasive treatment, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, for treating depression. Appointments are being scheduled at the New Center for Health & Community Impact by calling 724-603-2652.

“Our approach is to continue making the former Zachariah Connell School be a Center for Health Impact and the hub of community health,” Meier said. “One of our initiatives will focus on Women’s and Family Health and Wellness.”

The hospital’s Community Health Needs Steering Committee is in the process of developing a strategic implementation plan with the goal being to create a healthier community, she added.

The results from the CHNA will help hospital leaders better direct resources to improve population health of our region.

“Small rural community hospitals are invaluable assets to the communities they serve,” Andursky said. “Highlands Hospital continues to identify opportunities to remain viable and provide quality patient care.”

“In addition, the hospital is focusing our efforts to serve as a provider of wellness, prevention, and care for the greater Connellsville region and beyond,” Andursky said.

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