Formed over a year ago by a multitude of Buffalo County healthcare organizations, the Community Access Network (CAN) Team has been developing a picture of unmet health needs in Buffalo County. Funded by an $80,000 grant from the Sherwood Foundation and a $15,000 pledge from Good Samaritan Hospital, they are currently in the first phase of their nine-month plan. They have begun gathering information from key stakeholders in the community and are now expanding to listening sessions with community members.

The firsthand information provided in these listening sessions will supplement some of the data already collected through Buffalo County Community Partners’ 2012 Adult Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. Data from that survey showed 20% of Buffalo County residents over the age of 19 do not have a personal doctor or primary healthcare provider. Similarly, 12.5% of residents do not have health insurance, and the percentage of residents reporting a visit to the doctor in the past year has dropped from 57.2% in 2010 to 56.8% in 2012. In the past 12 months, 11% of Buffalo County residents were unable to see a doctor due to cost issues.

The information gathered from key stakeholders and community residents will be used during the next phase of the CAN Team’s planning process. They will review the information and utilize it in designing the most effective model for improving access to core medical services in Buffalo County. Once the planning phase is complete, the team will begin to develop agreements outlining the responsibilities of different partners as to how these services will be delivered to community members. In the final phase, the CAN Team will provide our community with a plan describing how they intend to establish and sustain this effort to close the gap on unmet health needs for the residents of Buffalo County.

Community members share healthcare concerns and barriers in a recent listening session conducted by the Community Health Access Team (CHAT).

Community members share healthcare concerns and barriers in a listening session conducted by the Community Health Access Team (CHAT).

“Expanding access to health care for our community is important work—work that we’re very much committed to at Good Samaritan,” said Michael Schnieders, president of Good Samaritan Hospital. “Combining the resources of these local organizations and agencies will make better access a reality, and in turn, improve the health of our community. We are honored to be part of this effort that is very much an extension of our mission.”

The CAN Team is powered by Buffalo County Community Partners and includes stakeholders from Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, Family Practice Associates, Good Samaritan Hospital, Kearney Clinic, Kearney eFree Church, Platte Valley Medical Group, Region 3 Behavioral Health Services, Sentinel Health Care, United Way of the Kearney Area, and others.

Regional Administrator for Region 3 Behavioral Health Services Beth Baxter said, “Improving the health of all individuals throughout Buffalo County is a high priority, and we’re excited to bring diverse partners together to address this important need.”

Dr. Ken Shaffer, physician at Kearney Clinic, said, “We need to unite the organizations that can remove healthcare barriers and improve access for community members who have personal health barriers, whether that’s a lack of insurance, financial problems, behavioral/psychiatric needs, etc. We are providing our community with an opportunity to address the issues and form a plan to help bring health care to this segment of our population.”

The CAN Team has enlisted the help of Mark Rukavina of Community Health Advisors to guide them through each phase of the project. Rukavina is a recognized expert on health access and affordability issues and has worked extensively on similar efforts across the nation. He has testified before US Congress and published research and policy briefs on healthcare cost access issues. In March of this year, Mark was invited to join the Healthcare Financial Management Association’s Medical Debt Advisory Task Force as a founding member.

“I am excited to build on the impressive work of Buffalo County Community Partners,” Rukavina said. “They have convened all the necessary partners needed for this type of effort to be successful, and I am confident that through this effort the health needs of all Buffalo County residents will be addressed.”

Julie Weir, health services director of Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska said, “Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska operated the Clinic of Good Health for ten years. This clinic served an average of 700 patients per year with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Our goal was to provide them with regular checkups, medication adjustments, diet and lifestyle plans to improve their health, as well as assistance with obtaining their medications. By providing these services, we were able to assist these patients in staying out of the Emergency Rooms, improving their work attendance, and improving their personal financial stability.

“Due to funding reductions, our clinic has been closed for almost two years, yet our agency continues to receive a number of phone calls each week from people who cannot afford health insurance and are in desperate need of low-cost or free, quality medical care. The Community Access Network Team brought diverse partnerships to the table that are focused on understanding the community’s needs and are actively working to set the best course forward to address them in our community.”

Anyone interested in making a donation in support of the CAN Team’s work, or interested in being involved with this effort, can visit our donate page, click the Donate button below, or call 308-865-2284.

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