BILL OF HEALTH: Cost of health care tops hospital assessment’s list of concerns

Amanda Hinkle, left and Amanda Everidge with Hancock Regional Hospital's Healthy 365 Center. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — Cost ranked at the top of the list of barriers to health care in a Community Health Needs Assessment recently compiled by Hancock Regional Hospital.

More than 900 people completed a survey between Jan. 1 and May 1 to provide feedback on what areas they feel are of the highest concern when it comes to health care.

The hospital has done the assessment every three years since 2014. A three-year assessment has been federally required of all public hospitals since 2017.

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In response, Hancock Health has and will continue to address those needs highlighted by each assessment, said Steve Long, president and CEO of Hancock Regional Hospital.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents listed the cost of health insurance, health care, and/or medications as a top concern this year.

Addictions and drug overdoses were listed as a top concern by 41% of respondents, as was mental health and suicide.

Chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart diseases were listed as a top concern by 21% of respondents, followed by obesity, mentioned by 20% of respondents.

The assessment results are used as a tool in creating the strategic plan to guide the hospital’s operations over the next three years, said Amanda Everidge, the hospital’s Healthy Community Manager, who managed the assessment.

The assessment is more than a simple survey, she said, but a catalyst for real change in how the hospital operates. It also provides a good tool to reflect back on, to see how the hospital has adapted and changed over the years in response to the public’s input.

“It shows very clearly that we are working hard and are invested in changing the health of our community, and supporting access to better health. It gives us a better understanding of what our community really needs,” said Everidge, who oversees Hancock Health’s Healthy365 program.

“Healthy365 was developed to create a blueprint to make our entire county one of the healthiest in the state of Indiana,” said Long, who is confidant the plan is working.

“With food-as-medicine programs, lifestyle training and events, mental and emotional health supports, and a focus on the social determinants of health, this initiative has improved Hancock County from 27th in the state of Indiana to fifth over the course of five years in the County Health Rankings criteria,” he said.

In an effort to make the county even healthier overall, Hancock Health sought out the public’s feedback for this year’s public health assessment through social media posts, mailings, emails and health care providers’ offices. All high school students in the county were also invited to complete the survey.

“Our sample was an accurate representation of those in Hancock County,” said Everidge, who appreciates the hundreds of people who took the time to respond to the survey and make their voices heard.

“It takes people and their feedback to help us make their experiences better,” she said.

Long said the hospital has already been taking steps to address the community feedback highlighted in the survey, including the cost of health care.

“Cost from the patient perspective is really a combination of two things — price and quantity,” he said. “The first is the actual price of health care services purchased. The second is related to the chronic illness treatments that drive 80% of all healthcare spending.”

That said, the most effective way to reduce health care spending for the general population is to keep the need for health care services at bay by staying as healthy as possible, said Long.

To help the public lead a healthier lifestyle, Hancock Health has invested in Wellness Centers in Greenfield, McCordsville and New Palestine to provide access to fitness equipment, exercise specialists, dietitians, diabetes educators and rehabilitation therapists. (A soft opening for the New Palestine center is scheduled for Dec. 21.)

Hancock Health also partners with governmental and private insurance companies in programs focused on identifying individuals struggling with chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, and providing care management services to guide them in their journey through the health care system.

Long said the hospital has also taken a number of steps to address the price of health care, including opening the Hancock Health Gateway facility at the crossroads of Mt. Comfort Road and I-70, which was designed to offer hospital-quality imaging and lab services at more affordable prices.

“Gateway is in-network with all the major insurance companies and offers the lowest pricing for diagnostic services in Central Indiana,” said Long.

He said Hancock Health has developed systems to provide estimates to patients for high-cost imaging and elective surgical procedures — so they can know up front how much their insurance will pay and what they will likely owe out-of-pocket — and has developed direct-access testing so patients can order their own low-cost lab tests or other screenings via the internet.

Hancock Health has also provided employer-based clinic options to local employers that give employees direct access to physician care, low-cost medications and low-cost lab testing.

Both Long and Everidge expressed thanks to all of those who took the time to fill out the 5- to 7-minute questionnaire for this year’s community health survey.

The assessment and strategic plan were presented to the hospital’s board of directors on Oct. 28, and are expected to be approved by the board later this month.

They will also be presented to the public at Healthy365’s annual meeting, which will be held virtually on Dec. 10.

Once approved, the results and strategic plan will be posted on the hospital’s website,

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More than 900 respondents completed a Community Health Needs Assessment earlier this year for Hancock Regional Hospital, which is in the process of reviewing a new strategic plan based on the results.

In the assessment, respondents listed the following areas as top health concerns impacting their health status:

•Cost of health insurance, healthcare, and/or medications (57%)

•Addictions and drug overdoses (41%)

•Mental health and suicide (41%)

•Chronic diseases (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) (21%)

•Obesity (20%)