County, state health care leaders launch health care assessment

Health care leaders across the county and state are preparing to launch a comprehensive health care needs assessment unlike any before it.

The assessment will be conducted by Hilo Medical Center Foundation, Hawaii State Rural Health Association, Community First, the state Department of Health, Hawaii County and the Hawaii Island Rural Health Association.

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Lisa Rantz, president of the Hawaii State Rural Health Association and executive director of the Hilo Medical Center Foundation, said the goal is to evaluate what is working in Hawaii’s health care, what issues still need to be addressed, and to come up with an action plan to meet community needs.

“We don’t need to just focus on our gaps,” Rantz said. “We want to know what’s working well, what do we still need to work on and how are we going to do it. We need to come up with an action plan.”

According to Rantz, Hawaii Island legislators have been invited to attend an informational Zoom briefing on Tuesday to inform them of the project — dubbed “Access to Care: Keep Care Local” — and learn what the lawmakers are hearing from providers and constituents in their districts.

Focus groups with other stakeholders, including statewide organizations under the DOH, different provider groups and the community, will follow.

“Part of this is we want to know what services they provide, want to know what they’re doing well, who they’re collaborating with, what support they still need — what does that look like so we can come up with this action plan and be able to work together to solve (provider shortages and access to care issues), because if we don’t all work together, it’s going to continue to be this way,” said Rantz.

Randy Kurohara, executive director of Community First, said that there’s sometimes a disconnect between medical providers who might say they have capacity for patients and people in the community who say they cannot find providers. It’s his hope that the assessment will identify where those discrepancies are, he said.

As part of the project, HMSA also will share data of procedures that are flown off-island.

Kurohara said health leaders could get a better understanding of how to keep more services on the island if they understand the volume of people using those services. More services could be offered locally “if we better understood what care is leaving our island.”

“We think we know what we know, but this is going to show us what’s really happening — the good, the bad, the weird stuff, the indifferent stuff, so we can address the issue once and for all,” Rantz said.

The assessment will start in Hawaii County but will be replicated for the other counties.

Kurohara said the focus groups will start later this month and in early August, with public participation beginning in September.

“The results of this effort … will provide us an opportunity to look at initiatives and other ways we can help create more access to care locally,” Kurohara said. “Access to care and keeping care local (are) two things we’re trying to help accomplish. We’ll have a better understanding once we get through this where the gaps are.”

Scott Daniels, with the DOH Office of Primary Care and Rural Health, said the office is providing technical assistance on the needs assessment and funding through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Health Disparities grant.

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“This initiative builds on work our office has done and supported in the past on determining the health needs of the community, not just the medical needs,” he said. “This project seeks input from throughout the community and is making efforts to ensure inclusion of voices that are frequently neglected.

“The focus is on developing and maintaining a healthy community and looking beyond the clinical needs to the broader environmental needs of health,” Daniels continued. “Since rural areas generally have poorer health outcomes, work on the assessment aligns with our efforts to increase the health of our rural communities and to better prepare rural health providers.”

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