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Working group unveils recommendations of Berks health study

A firm has completed a study commissioned by Berks County to investigate how the county can help fill local health care gaps.

The findings recently were unveiled by a representative from a company hired to help gather information regarding the health of county residents and create recommendations to enhance the delivery of health services.

Berks commissioners hired Health Management Associates in April for about $168,000 to conduct the study. Its purpose was to accomplish three things:

• Assess the health and public health services in Berks to identify opportunities to ensure all residents have resources and opportunities to pursue their highest level of health.

• Examine how the county coordinates and aligns action tied to public health that engages residents, businesses, schools, community organizations and government sectors.

• Ensure Berks has community-focused information to assess how health care and public health services support residents in improving health outcomes and health equity.

Maddy Shea, a principal for Health Management Associates, said the study was informed by quantitative and qualitative data and guided by a five-member core team representing public health experts, members of county government and leaders of community organizations.

She said they reviewed state and county health statistics to establish a baseline understanding of existing public health needs, mapped the data they received and reviewed recent community health needs assessments from local health providers.

They also compared the county health profile to neighboring counties, engaged more than 80 members of the community through focus groups and conducted interviews with local leaders and health care providers.

Shea said that through those interviews they found that people want the county to help coordinate existing public health services and support collective action so county resources are targeted at needs not addressed elsewhere.

They also said they want the county to provide one trusted voice about public health threats, response and concerns to guide residents during public health emergencies.

“We worked hard for a year and really chewed on a lot of tough issues, but we came up with four recommendations that we feel provide a really great path forward,” she said.

The following are the recommendations:

  1. Create a Berks County health director position to lead public health collective action and coordination and serve as a trusted communicator about public health information.

  2. Develop a Berks County Public Health Advisory Panel to advise the health director and guide public health assessment, policy and assurance activities.

  3. Support the establishment of a Healthy Berks Coalition to serve as a coordinating body for public health efforts in the county. The health director will coordinate the activities of the coalition.

  4. Create a Berks County health analyst position to improve public health data completeness and accuracy who would report to the health director.

Shea said these recommendations will put the county on a path to meeting the immediate public health needs and will enable a broad range of options in enhancing its ability to meet those needs in the future.

They will also provide a path for the option of establishing a public health department should that be desired in the future.

The commissioners thanked the working group for their dedication and commitment to helping complete the study. They assured the group that they would review the full report and consider its recommendations.

The full 270-page report, available in English and Spanish, can be found online here.

Source: Berkshire mont

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