Organizers form plan for future

Published 12:05 am Thursday, December 4, 2014

NATCHEZ — A group of health-minded organizers gathered in Natchez Wednesday to form a plan to shape Adams County’s health care future.

Adams County was chosen earlier this year by Humana and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative — which is affiliated with the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation — to launch a program aimed at removing barriers to well being and help improve the health of Mississippians.

Wednesday was the “Blueprint for Action Day,” during which participants — including business, civic and health care industry leaders — discussed a number of social and environmental issues that could impact the area’s overall health and proposed actions to address them.

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Those issues included physical activity; healthy eating and food quality; substance abuse; employment, education and income; community safety; sexual activity; access to and quality of clinical care; physical environment and family and social support.

“This is just the first step,” said Getty Israel, regional director for Adams County in the Clinton Health Matters Initiative. “I will take these ideas and compile them into a final document.”

Facilitators at the sessions included university professors, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and healthy living advocates.

Some of the ideas presented mirrored programs or initiatives already in place in the city — developing recreation, expanding access to healthy food through farmer’s markets, improving health care by improving the economy and better communication of what health services are already available in the area.

Other groups suggested addressing health barriers by addressing social issues, including creating peer-based support groups to facilitate education about breastfeeding, family meal planning and targeting teenage pregnancy.

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state epidemiologist for Mississippi, said Adams County needs to have access to “legitimate sex education in all the schools” with the goal of reducing Chlamydia and gonorrhea infection rates by 30 percent.

“Why is that important? Mississippi is No. 1 in Chlamydia and gonorrhea and No. 2 in teen pregnancy, and people are getting Chlamydia and gonorrhea when they are teenagers,” Dobbs said.

“Trying to keep teenagers’ heads in the sand about sex is not working. Part of that (education) will be helping them navigate not having sex if they are not ready, and part will be them being educated when they are ready.”

Dobbs said his group also advocated for an HIV treatment center in the area. Currently, 140 people infected with HIV in Adams County have to seek treatment elsewhere.

The group dealing with critical access care suggested all health care providers receive training in order to better communicate with patients. The group likewise suggested stronger community advocacy efforts so those who have not previously had access to health care will be more comfortable receiving it.

“With the Affordable Care Act, I know a lot of people were excited to get coverage, but they were unsure of what to expect when they went in for that first visit,” said Dr. Laura Trunk with Humana. “We want to make sure they aren’t uncomfortable when someone brings up a topic they might not think is a part of a typical medical exam, like past substance use.”

The initiative will host another meeting in the spring when the results of the breakout sessions are compiled into a comprehensive plan, Israel said.

“In the spring we will present this final document, then get in the trenches and start implementing (the ideas),” she said.