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St. Joe’s focusing on obesity, substance abuse

As part of a year-long assessment into the health needs of the communities that surround five of its hospitals across southeast Michigan, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System (SJMHS) has determined that the greatest areas of need are obesity and behavioral health, including substance abuse, in which to focus its community benefit resources.

The Community Health Needs Assessment is a requirement of all tax-exempt hospitals established as part of the Affordable Care Act and overseen by the Internal Revenue Service that must be conducted every three years by non-profit hospitals.

“As a health system, we took this opportunity to develop a data-driven approach to truly understand the health needs of our community,” said Michael Miller, regional chief mission officer, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. “Not only does this requirement demonstrate our value but it helps us live out our mission to be a compassionate, transforming, healing presence in our community.”

Covering Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw, and western Wayne counties, the assessment included an in-depth review of national, state and local data; key stakeholder interviews and community agency surveys.  Obesity and behavioral health, including substance abuse, were identified due to the size and severity of the problem and the health system’s ability to impact the issues.

In Livingston County, nearly two out of three adults are overweight or obese, and one out of four high schools students and one in three children ages 2 to 5 are overweight or obese. The percent of overweight or obese adults has worsened over the past decade.

One out of eight adults in Livingston County report having at least 14 days of fair/poor mental health in the past month; this proportion has consistently worsened since 2006. Alcohol consumption, including both binge drinking and heavy drinking, has consistently been higher in Livingston adults than Michigan adults.

For high school students in the county, one in four regularly drinks alcohol, one out of six smoke marijuana and one out of 20 use painkillers without a prescription. The suicide rate in Livingston County has exceeded that of Michigan for the past three years for which data is available.

As a regional system across metro Detroit that is part of Trinity Health, the second largest Catholic health system in the country, St. Joe’s has a tremendous opportunity to address problems before they turn into negative health outcomes.

Strategies to address these needs in Livingston County include:

•    Support schools with education and prevention strategies, nutrition and physical activity and behavioral health.
•    Improve community access to nutritious foods.
•    Address access to care barriers such as transportation, ability to pay, awareness of insurance benefits and the number of providers.
•    Improve behavioral health in the community by preventing suicide, improving access to behavioral health services and reducing the use of alcohol.

SJMHS is currently developing an implementation plan to address these health issues, working closely with community partners to improve the coordination and support for existing community resources that address these needs.

One of the programs implemented in Livingston County to address obesity is Shapedown®, a national weight management program for families offered through Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. During this ten-week course, parents and children ages 6 to 18 work together as a team with a social worker, registered dietitian, and exercise specialist to learn how healthy eating, an active lifestyle and effective communication promote weight loss and family unity.

Last year, SJMHS returned $133 million to the community through charity care and community benefit programs.

To learn more about the findings, SJMHS reports on obesity and mental health can be downloaded www.stjoeshealth.org/cbm.

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