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Foundation studies health needs in Copake, Ancram

ANCRAM—Mental health rated highest on a list of top health concerns identified by participants in a community needs assessment which included southeastern Columbia County.

The needs assessment was commissioned by The Foundation for Community Health (FCH), a private, not-for-profit foundation dedicated to maintaining and improving the physical and mental health of residents.

FCH’s service area is made up of 17 towns including Ancram and Copake in southeastern Columbia County. The remaining towns are in northeastern Dutchess County and northwestern Litchfield County in Connecticut.

While second on the list overall, access to primary care was identified as the top concern by more Columbia County respondents. Chronic disease and substance abuse rounded out the top four concerns, followed by the lack of awareness of health and social services, access to specialty health care, obesity/overweight, dental/oral health and Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

FCH commissioned the assessment to review health conditions and health status as well as perceived needs in order to guide its work moving forward. FCH funds grants for specific programs and services and provides technical and program development grants and assistance to increase effectiveness and capacity of local services and programs, among other activities.

FCH Chief Executive Director Nancy Heaton told The Columbia Paper this week by phone that the foundation was initially funded through the sale of Sharon Hospital. The foundation continues to be supported by investments and donations and has about $25 million in assets.

The needs assessment cost the foundation less than $15,000 and the data will be used by the foundation to inform its grant-making strategy, Ms. Heaton said. Oral health, which was earlier identified as a primary concern and on which FCH concentrated resources, has fallen lower down the list, she said.

Assessment data was collected from three sources:

*Secondary data about community and health status and conditions come from the U.S. Census, national surveys and state agencies (labor, education and public health), as well as data collected by community-based agencies and researchers

*A web-based Community Stakeholder Survey, sent to about 450 stakeholders in or serving the 17 communities, was used to gather information about perceived health concerns and needed services in the region (43% response rate)

*Ten focus groups with 82 community stakeholders representing a variety of sectors and interests were conducted to gather a more in-depth perspective on health status and needs in the communities served by FCH.

Residents who responded to the survey said undiagnosed and untreated mental illness is prevalent. Children and youth, Hispanics and seniors were seen as particularly vulnerable. Co-occurring disorders such as mental illness and substance use are a concern to respondents, who said stigma prevents those who need help from seeking it.

Lack of access to care; few mental health providers; cost barriers; long waits and distances for appointments; and no emergency mental health services locally for some were noted. While the Affordable Care Act addresses some barriers, there are still concerns about the availability of providers, according to the assessment report.

Data cited in the assessment show that suicide rates in Columbia County are higher than the state rate, and rates of adult use of public mental health services have risen substantially between 2007 and 2013.

The assessment says what is needed is “more providers and out-patient treatment services to meet current needs.” That could be accomplished by FCH “support of mobile approaches to delivering care including traveling counselors who could visit community organizations such as community centers, schools ort senior programs,” says the report.

Mental health services in Columbia County are available through:

*Human Services Department Mental Health Center at 518 828-9446, the number is also a 24-hour crisis line. The center is at 325 Columbia Street, Hudson

*Mental Health Association of Columbia Greene Counties, Inc., with the Reach Center, 713 Union Street, Hudson, 518 828-4619, http://www.mhacg.org/. The association website has a complete list of its services and additional local resources

*Call 211, a phone number that connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community

*Visit the Foundation for Community Health website http://fchealth.org to find a list of additional resources and links and to read the assessment summary or complete report.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com



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