Mental Health Top Concern in Eastern Connecticut According to Windham and Backus Hospital Needs Assessment

June 22, 2015 By Steve Coates

Mental health is the top health concern facing eastern Connecticut, according to approximately 100 community stakeholders and staff members who attended two separate health needs prioritization meetings hosted by Backus and Windham hospitals on June 11, 2015.

More than 50 representatives from the hospitals, local health care agencies, social service groups and community leaders voted on the top concerns presented in both hospitals’ community health needs assessments during two meetings held at the East Region System Support Office in Norwich and at Eastern Connecticut State University.

The reports, done every three years, identify the greatest health needs in each hospital’s service area, giving them a roadmap to work with community partners to improve the population’s overall health. Heart disease and stroke, substance abuse and diabetes were also identified as top concerns for both Backus and Windham’s service areas. While mental health was identified as the top priority for both hospitals, officials also agreed it is an area that organizations can make an impact on if they work together.

James O’Dea, PhD, MBA, Hartford HealthCare regional director of behavioral health, says Hartford HealthCare has been a leader in making mental health part of the health care conversation and is committed to building capacity to help people access care.

“Whether it’s Mental Health First Aid to teach community members about identifying and helping those with mental illness, ambulatory and inpatient services, or embedding behavioral health into the primary care setting, we believe that mental health is foundational to a person’s overall health,” said O’Dea. “As with any other health condition, if we can identify an issue early and provide proper care and treatment, we go a long way in mitigating the long term effects of the disease.”

Cancer, substance abuse, infant health and family planning, and access to healthcare were also identified as “areas of opportunity.” However, access to health care ranked higher as a barrier for residents in the Windham Hospital service area than it did in the Backus service area. While access to care wasn’t in the top five health needs for either hospital, it’s still a major issue, said Dave Whitehead, President, Hartford HealthCare East Region. He added that further evaluation is needed to determine how to address potential access issues.

Data for the health needs assessments was collected through more than 1,100 phone surveys and interviews with key stakeholders representing all demographics in the Backus and Windham service areas.