What are Kitsap’s health priorities? - Health District, Harrison Medical Center and United Way plan to find out with community’s help

There have been a couple attempts at developing a countywide system to monitor how health care is distributed, but nothing as widespread as a new project, Kitsap Community Health Priorities, which started last month.

At least not since 1942, which is the earliest account of meeting minutes and documents at the Kitsap County Health District.

With a disparity between communities in the county, it’s easy to distinguish each region as separate from one another. However, all parts of the county are served by the same agencies, and those groups are looking to find better ways to improve healthcare delivery throughout the entire county.

The health district, Harrison Medical Center and United Way of Kitsap County are working together to gather data and feedback to determine what health-related issues need the most attention and how improvements should be made.

David Foote, executive director of United Way of Kitsap County, understands that the task will not be easy.

“The challenge is pulling people in, gathering information and coming up with a community plan,” Foote said.

Although Foote said it is uncertain what specific changes and improvements will come out of the process — since it is dependent on the research and group input — he said at the very least it will attempt to bring the county together. The county is unique in that it is made up of five different regions, but the project will emphasize what all communities have in common, he said.

“That, in and of itself, is a benefit,” Foote said.

The groups aren’t planning on doing this alone, nor is one agency taking the lead over the others.

“This isn’t a health district program,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the district’s director of health. “The community should drive this process.”

With other groups and individuals, the three organizations kicked off the program with their first meeting last month. The health priorities program is being funded through a state grant that is directed specifically toward improving health in communities.

“In (difficult) economic times, we’re pushing to do more with less,” said Lindquist, adding that one reason multiple groups are working together is so that they are not duplicating each other’s work and resources.

The process will include looking at death certificates, birth certificates and other existing data through the summer. Surveys may also be distributed, although the collection process has not been finalized. A facilitator outside of all participating organizations has been hired to mediate the meetings. By late fall or early winter, the group hopes to complete assessments and finalize goals. This research process will also develop into a long term plan of having an annual data collection process that can be shared and benefit different organizations in the county.

United Way of Kitsap County does not service individuals but has 36 local agencies it works with ranging from those that assist youth to those promoting health and wellness. Foote said the organization is in the midst of going through applications for 22 agencies that have applied for grants. In upcoming years, the results from the community health priorities data could affect the organizations that United Way supports, he said.

The state Department of Health provided Kitsap County with the Community/State Health Improvement Plan Collaborative, a $10,000 grant for the project. United Way and the county health district have also contributed $10,000 each.

Walla Walla County Health Department and Grays Harbor County Public Health also recently received the improvement plan collaborative grant. The reasons for awarding the grant to health agencies is so that they can identify what areas of community health need improvement, to figure out the best approach and to assess whether that strategy works, said Gordon MacCracken, spokesman for the state Department of Health.

Although the main purpose is to research and find out what improvements can be made in community health for the entire county, it does not mean that individuals and groups not directly associated with the health or medicine field should not participate. Foote and Lindquist both said that they hope others in fields such as education and business will join in the process.

“We don’t want to represent a group, but the entire county,” Lindquist said.

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