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New Study Shows Obesity, Cancer, And Heart Disease Are Among Southeast Missouri's Top Health Issues

Lindsey Grojean/KRCU

Cancer, mental health, heart disease, healthcare affordability, and obesity are the top five serious health needs of southeast Missourians, according to a new study by St. Francis Healthcare System. The Cape Girardeau hospital has completed their months-long community health needs assessment, which consisted of surveying 237 people and conducting six focus groups in their service area. We spoke with St. Francis’ vice president of foundation and marketing, Jimmy Wilferth about their findings, and the actions they plan to take to improve these areas.

Lindsey Grojean: Saint Francis has completed their months-long study of the community health needs, and this is throughout Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Scott and Stoddard. Are there any additional counties in that?

Jimmy Wilferth: Nope it's those four counties.

LG: But is this the main area that St. Francis typically serves?

JW: No, we serve a broad area. This is obviously the area closest to the main campus here in Cape Girardeau. But, by doing a cross-section throughout Bollinger, and in Scott and Stoddard, that gives us a pretty good representation of our outlying areas as well. So we get really good feedback when we do this every three years by focusing on not only Cape Girardeau and Scott, but some of the outlying counties as well.

LG: This is a newer comprehensive study that you all have completed. It started in 2010 and this is the third one that you all have completed. So because of this survey, what kind of improvements, if any, has St. Francis been able to make in serving this area?

JW: Sure. Well, every three years because of the Affordable Care Act - like you said in March of 2010 - that requires hospitals with a 501(c)(3) tax exempt status to meet these requirements to comply with the intent of a charitable hospital. So since then, every three years, we do this community health needs study, this assessment. Which means we go out in the community and say what's going on? What are you most concerned about related to health care? And then it's up to us to tabulate that, whether it's through individual surveys or focus groups - we do a lot of both of those - tabulate that information, come up with an implementation plan, and then put it into practice. And based on the last two, we've implemented a lot of things. Some things have changed a little bit, obviously. We're part of the Healthy Communities Coalition, which is a whole group of health care providers in our service area getting together and talking [about] the community health needs assessment and what we're doing about that, gleaning best practices off one another, sharing with one another what we're doing. We're doing the Baby and Me Project, which is co-sleeping education for moms and dads with their newborns. We implemented this last year based off the Community Health Needs Assessment, and that's been wildly successful in educating and preparing moms as they leave the hospital with baby boxinets. But mainly the education of how Sudden Infant Death Syndrome goes through the roof if you co-sleep. So in the counties that we implemented that last year, the infant mortality rates went to almost zero as a result. Stroke screenings, C.T. scans, heart and health, skin cancer, all of these - doing screenings early in advance. These are all things that came up on 2016's Community Health Needs Assessment, and we're now offering more readily-available screenings. We've always done that through Pink Up for breast cancer, through Smoking Cessation, all of that. But we've opened that up so much so that we found that a lot of people can't even get to us. So we've gone on the road with our mobile mammography unit, going out into the rural locations because the need was great. I mean, even though we were providing those services for free, people couldn't get to us. So we took it on the road, and we're looking at doing the same thing. We're calling it "Mobile Health Care." It's taking primary care out on the road, whether we're doing it through telemedicine, or doing it to physically take a physician's assistant or a physician or a nurse practitioner out on the road to see moms, dads, kids in the rural communities that don't have access or don't have transportation. Childhood obesity was a big one; parent and childhood obesity. And we hit that head-on with a program called "Go Noodle" that was available to every school-aged child, whether it's private, public, or home school. That gets the kids out of their seats, gets them out of their sedentary state. And we're continuing that, because the preliminary results from this year's Community Health Needs Assessment shows the same thing. Some of the highest concerns out there are adult and childhood obesity.

LG: So, what have you all found this year from this health assessment? What are some issues that you all have seen to be pretty prominent in this area?

JW: Well, again, obesity is right at the top of the list. But heart disease, hypertension, I mean, just the level of stress that everybody is under, is right at the top. Mental health, obviously. Substance abuse. Those are huge factors that affect us here in southeast Missouri and in southern Missouri. Obviously cancer - breast cancer, prostate, colon, lung - those are all huge. And the other one that kind of hits the top is health care affordability. And so we are looking at all of those, and seeing what we're already doing and what others in our area are doing, and how we can pour more resources, more effort, more time into addressing these top three, four, five issues that our community says, 'These are our major concerns when it comes to health care.'

LG: So do you all take these numbers and compare them with regional health care that's about the same size, that covers the same amount of people in other areas in different states?

JW: We do. That's good, interesting information to have. It's nice to know what other regions are struggling with, what they're succeeding with. Because if they're succeeding in some of these areas that we're struggling with, we're going to find out why: 'What are you doing in order to make it work?' But our main focus is not really what is going on in other regions, it's what's going on right here. And I think a great point to make, Lindsey, is that this isn't just a St. Francis initiative. We partner with SoutheastHEALTH, we partner with the county health centers and do this as a joint effort. We all serve in this area. We have great health care in this area. And this isn't a competition, this is about all of us pooling our resources, figuring out what the primary concerns are out there, and how we can address this corporately and collectively. So it's not a St. Francis thing. This isn't a Cape Girardeau thing. This is something that affects our whole area. So we all put our heads together. We share this report with those who weren't necessarily available to participate in it. Missouri Delta, for example. And we share it with Bollinger County Health Center and Cape Girardeau County Health Center and Stoddard and Southeast Missouri State University and Ferguson Medical Group in Sikeston, so that everybody has the information that they need in order to be able to serve their community the best way possible.

LG: Another question: several agencies over the years have reported high levels of cancer in this area, especially with colon and breast. And I was curious if you all had any ongoing initiatives or programs that are working to tackle that?

JW: We absolutely do. This has been an issue for a long time. We know that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. We know that one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer. Those are the top four that affect us here, regionally. And the best way to fight that, Lindsey, is to have early screenings. We continue to promote Pink Up. Every dollar that we raise through our Pink Up initiative in October and throughout the year, it goes towards not only treating women and men that come down with breast cancer, or any of these cancers if they can't afford it, if they're underinsured, or uninsured. These are what these dollars go toward, 100%. But if we can catch these things through the mobile mammography unit, women getting their annual screenings. Screenings are the answer to fighting cancer. If we catch something in its stage 1, stage 2, still a bummer of a day. You just got told that you have cancer. But we can beat that. We can fight that. If we're not getting screenings until you have something that's more developed or down the road as far as a stage 3 or stage 4 -not that those can't be fought and beat - but it's harder. So through the screenings, through the initiatives that we put in place, we're going to continue to do what we do. We're going to enhance what we do, because that's the key to beating cancer.

To see the full implementation plan for St. Francis’ Community Health Needs Assessment, including results from the study, click here.