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Path to a healthier community (01/19/2014)
By Amelia Wedemeyer
Access to mental health care and services, preventive care services — health measures one can take to prevent diseases or injuries — and the issue of obesity were the top three health priorities identified by members of the Winona community in Winona Health’s Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). The CHNA is a collaborative study, conducted with several Winona County organizations, that identifies current unmet health and wellness needs throughout the county.

“The results were not completely alarming,” Janel Miller, community engagement coordinator at Winona Health, said. “Those were some of the needs that we had anticipated as being higher issues on the list.”

The study, which took about a year and a half to plan, implement, and distribute, was primarily conducted through focus groups involving community organizations, and two surveys — Survey A and Survey B — distributed among Winona residents.

The top three issues established from Survey A were obesity, mental health access, and binge drinking. Survey A was given to 6,000 people in the general population residing within the 55987 postal code area. Survey B, however, was much more targeted, and was specifically sent to 200 immigrant households. The top four issues identified by Survey B were obesity, problems accessing health care due to lack of transportation, high health care costs/lack of health insurance, and households reporting that they were running out of food before having the money to buy more. Both surveys received a similar response rate, with 28 percent of those surveyed responding to Survey A and 30 percent responding to Survey B.

The Minnesota Center for Health Statistics, part of the Minnesota Department of Health, said "that the response we got was a very high success rate,” Miller said. “They told us that it beat the threshold of typical surveys that would be deemed successful.”

The results from the data collection and focus groups will be used to create plans to address mental health care, preventive care, and obesity.

“We have the next three years to start working on this,” Miller explained. “It will probably take that long to make long term changes.” Another survey will be conducted after the three years.

What to do next

To combat each of the issues CHNA identified, Winona Health created a blueprint that it will use to plan its process in the following three years.

“It’s a community-wide effort, so we need to start talking to the right people for insight and resources,” Miller explained.

According to the CHNA report, some of the measures that will be taken include: increasing mental health awareness and education in the Winona community (mental health services); reducing the inequality of preventive screenings in minority and disadvantaged populations, while supporting cultural needs, and promoting healthy living for all Winonans (preventive care services); and educating the community on what exactly obesity is and how it impacts health and well-being, while offering viable solutions.

“I think once we see some positive change, there will be a snowball effect among the community,” Miller said in regard to community involvement.

“I think once people see the positive changes among their neighbors, they will want to make changes in themselves, and overall it will start to make the community healthier.”  


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