By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — Overall, residents of Cape Ann’s communities are healthy and have access to a solid health service network.
But making sure residents, especially low-income and elderly residents can access it is a central concern raised in Lahey Health System’s community health needs assessment.
The initial assessment, one required of all Massachusetts hospitals and hospital corporations every three years, found that chronic disease, behavioral health issues, and elder care are the foremost health concerns on Cape Ann. Communities, according to the assessment, have strong health service networks — including Addison Gilbert Hospital, and human service agencies like the Open Door.
The hospital’s consulting firm, John Snow Inc., will hold community forums on the assessment results this week. Gloucester’s is at 5:30 p.m. today at the Gloucester House Restaurant; the hospital will also hold one on Thursday at the Rockport Community House, again at 5:30 p.m.
Making sure residents have access to health services through Addison Gilbert Hospital or primary care practices, like the Gloucester Family Health Center, is the key challenge presented by the assessment, said Gerald MacKillop, who managed the initial assessment for Lahey Health System, the new nonprofit corporation forged from the merger of Lahey Clinic and Northeast Health Systems, parent company of Addison Gilbert Hospital.
“The hospital and community will have to work together,” MacKillop said, “this isn’t something the hospital can do alone.”
The three-year needs assessment took 48 weeks to carry out, and cost $135,000, said MacKillop.
That assessment, howeverm is not the same as the one still to come — one that the Department of Public Health mandated as part of Lahey Health Systems merger, he said.
The initial assessment used hospital data and a survey sent out to residents, with 52 percent of those who received the survey responding.
That survey, said MacKillop, found that chronic diseases especially diabetes, are a primary concern.
More than 15 percent of those surveyed said they have diabetes — more than double the state average of 7.4 percent. While the area’s obesity, heart disease and cancer rates were at state averages, MacKIlliop said 28 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t regularly exercise.
Overall, Cape Ann communities are healthy, as compared to other municipalities. MacKillop said the area has a substantial health service network and most of the population has health insurance.
But, he added, the community has to do more to keep low income residents and the elderly from falling through cracks in that network.
“We need to do a better job of providing the resources residents need to access that care,” MacKillop said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.