Across the country, many communities face persistent challenges when it comes to health. Rates of diabetes and hypertension have been creeping upward. Obesity remains a stubborn problem.
In Scotland County, on North Carolina’s southern border, a new effort is working to turn that tide. With a $250,000 grant from The Duke Endowment, Scotland Health Care System has launched a program focused on promoting prevention and managing chronic diseases. By offering free screenings and education, the goal is to help people reduce their risk for illness and enhance their quality of life.
Learn more about the work below.
1. The Challenge
Community leaders have used recent data as a wake-up call. At 98th of 100 counties, Scotland comes in near the bottom of North Carolina’s health outcomes rankings. And in 2014, with a 16.9 percent unemployment rate and 47 percent of children living in poverty, Scotland ranked last in social and economic factors.
2. The Hospital’s Role
Scotland Health Care System’s interest in the community has become more focused on prevention and wellness. Based in Laurinburg, the hospital covers a broad, three-county service area.
The hospital has hired a community health educator/patient navigator to oversee an expanded array of education and wellness events.
3. The Goals
- Promote quality of life, healthy development and positive lifestyle behaviors
- Reduce unnecessary use of the emergency department and decrease hospital readmissions
- Provide patient education and support
“Ultimately, our goal is to help educate our community regarding risks related to diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, and provide the resources and services needed for living vibrant lives,” says Jennifer Coughenour, mobile health coordinator at Scotland Health Care System.
4. The Plan
Community surveys in Scotland County show a need for more screenings and education. With effective programs in place and a health educator entrenched in the community, more people have the chance to learn about lifestyle changes that can lead to better health.
Patrick Bines joined the Scotland Health Care System staff in September 2014. As a community health educator, he organizes screenings and education events across the community, providing information on smoking cessation, nutrition, physical activity and fitness. As a patient navigator, he helps patients understand health care and treatment plans, and connects them to community resources.
“It’s a great feeling to have patients come back and tell you, ‘I tried what you said and it worked.’ That’s what makes me really love this job,” Bines says.
5. The Strategy
Bines will oversee community events for the general public. Programs will focus on diabetes, heart disease and hypertension and provide information on smoking cessation, nutrition, physical activity and fitness.
Through screenings, he’ll be able to help participants get the medical attention they need. He’ll also follow-up with phone calls, resources and coaching. Lay health advisors will develop further relationships in the community to help patients find medical homes.
In addition, Bines will coordinate a continuum of care for hospital patients by making sure they leave with a follow-up appointment and a clear understanding of their self-care instructions.
“We don’t want people to walk away thinking, ‘I have hypertension. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.’ We want to get more people to the right place for the right care, and then coordinate that care through follow-up,” Bines says.
6. The Early Results
The program is still in its infancy, but after only a few months 230 people have attended 10 community health screenings, 450 people have attended 14 educational events and 11 uninsured and underinsured patients have been connected to a primary care office.
The hospital will also be tracking the number of patients who use the emergency department for primary care to test if that decreases over time.
7. The Final Word
“Supporting efforts that promote prevention is an important step in improving population health,” says Meka Sales, a Health Care program officer at The Duke Endowment. “Providing effective education programs can help community members learn healthy living alternatives, reduce their risk for illness, and enhance their quality of life.”
Lin B. Hollowell III
Director of Health Care