The Woodward News

December 11, 2013

Health care advantages, challenges discussed

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — When it comes to the health of the citizens of Woodward County, there are a lot of challenges, but there are a few advantages as well.

Representatives from a variety of community agencies discussed some of these challenges and advantages during a health care assessment meeting Tuesday at High Plains Technology Center.

Tuesday's meeting was actually the fourth in a series of such meetings sponsored by the Woodward Area Coalition (WAC) in cooperation with the Oklahoma Turning Point Council through the Oklahoma State Department of Health as well as other community partners.

In addition to Turning Point and the health department, other agencies represented at Tuesday's meeting included Western Plains Youth and Family Services, Northwest Center for Behavioral Health, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and Woodward Regional Hospital.  A local minister and a chiropractor were also in attendance.

"We tried to reach out to a bunch of different sectors of community and engage them," said Lana Shaffer, the area field consultant for Turning Point.  "Everybody brings their own knowledge and understanding so it's important to have those people at the table so you can get the full picture and an accurate picture of what's going on in the community."

Shaffer said the purpose of the series of health care assessments was to identify specific health care issues in Woodward County and then develop a plan to prioritize and address those issues.

The 3 previous assessment meetings focused on 1) how the county's health resources are perceived, 2) how well the county's public health system partners collaborate, and 3) analysis of a variety of health indicators to determine the county's current health status.

However, Tuesday's meeting was held to identify the "Forces of Change," such as different trends or events, that positively and or negatively impact health care in Woodward County.

The "Forces of Change" that are listed below are those that were identified as perceived issues by the community representatives listed above, and may not be a full, complete accurate list of health care issues in Woodward County.



HEALTH CARE ADVANTAGES

Some of the positive forces and health advantages discussed included:

• access to mid-level health care providers, such as physician assistants, as well as access to certain specialists, including cardiologists, orthopedists, a neurosurgeon, dialysis providers, and an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) through Woodward Regional Hospital and the Woodward Clinics;

• improvements to outdoor areas to encourage exercise, including new ballparks and other facilities at Crystal Beach Park over the past few years, as well as planned extension to the walking trail in coming years;

• good collaboration between local agencies and even amongst community members in general, such as with benefit dinners organized to help certain individuals or families with health care expenses;

• increased support for public health initiatives and policy changes such as school campuses becoming tobacco-free; and

• the current strong economy bolstered by the energy industry, which is pumping more money into city coffers and thus helping to pay for better equipment and facilities, such as the new central fire station in Woodward, construction on which is set to begin next year.



AREA HEALTH CARE CHALLENGES

Some of the negative forces of change, or health care challenges, included:

• language barriers between health care providers and non-English speaking patients;

• the current doctor shortage as well as issues with recruiting and retaining doctors in such a rural area;

• higher cost of living, for housing and daily expenses, as well as for health care;

• an aging population, especially as many older citizens now face the demands of extended careers because they need the extra income to cover higher expenses or in some cases extended child-rearing responsibilities with grandparents having to raise grandkids;

• lack of certain health care resources, such as limited bed space in mental health or substance abuse facilities;

• difficulty in accessing mental health services, including everything from parents not bringing their children to counseling to lack of adult services in areas of marriage counseling, parenting assistance, anger management;

• environmental factors such as the impact of the ongoing drought and concerns over the impact of fracking on water supplies;

• increased criminal activity, whether drug and/or alcohol related or issues related to child sexual abuse and human trafficking; and

• the move to a more digital society, which can impede access to certain resources if a person doesn't have or know how to use a computer.



MIXED ISSUES

However, some of the forces discussed had both positive and negative elements, such as:

• the development of electronic medical records which on the positive side can help improve patient care and make for more organized record keeping, but on the negative side can be expensive to implement and involves a learning curve; and

• the Affordable Care Act, which through the marketplace will offer the potential for more people to get health care coverage, but on the other hand is leading to changes in eligibility requirements for certain programs such as SoonerCare that is reducing access to those programs.