Grand County needs – Health and Human Services | SkyHiNews.com

Grand County needs – Health and Human Services

Jancie Hughes
Special to the Sky-Hi Daily News

When Grand County residents who were asked by the Grand Foundation, the Grand County Board of Commissioners and the Grand County Needs Assessment Committee to consider the elements that contribute to their quality of life, health and human services ranked fifth in importance.

The environment, a sense of community, economy and employment, and planning and growth outranked this category.

As Grand County grows and attracts more older and well-off residents, working families with children, and lower-income workers, healthcare and other human services must keep up with the changing demography and expectations. The study assessed a wide range of topics related to health and human services, including the accessibility and affordability of healthcare services as well as the quality of health services and housing.

In the survey, accessibility to adequate healthcare was in the top tier of importance, while most residents reported that health services in general were not good.

The distance people must travel to receive services and the perceived poor quality of services provided in Grand County were important issues.

In particular, residents reported that surgery, MRI testing, cardiac testing, ophthalmology services, dermatology services and oncology services were either poor or not available in Grand County.

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Keep in mind that the final report of results is dated March 11, 2009, so that some of these perceptions may have changed over the past year.

Basic healthcare services seem to be adequate for better-off residents, says the survey.

Services most-often found nearby and considered to be excellent or good were routine health check-ups with immunizations, dental services and optometry.

The lowest income residents were much less positive about these basic services.

Human services, including services to seniors, were not viewed positively by Grand County residents.

The county, as a place to retire, received ratings below the national average. Services related to health, human services and services to families were also rated below other like-sized communities. However, key community leaders felt healthcare services were improving in Grand County.

Survey participants living in the western region of the county were more likely to give better ratings to healthcare services than were residents in other regions, while those living in central Grand County were least likely to give positive ratings. Inadequate health services concerned older residents, but even younger respondents had concerns about health issues.

Said one focus group participant, “Having to go down to Denver for two surgeries has definitely been a challenge and expensive.” And a second homeowner interviewee said, “I don’t know why anybody would move up there without a better solution to healthcare.”

A third quote mentions another concern, that “you cannot deliver a baby in Grand County – you have to go to Steamboat or Denver.”

Although the uninsured rate for residents was similar to other rural resort areas, health insurance was a challenge for many residents, in part because of seasonal and part-time jobs.

The resident survey indicated that jobs with health insurance were among the most important community needs – 80 percent reported that this issue was “essential” or “very important” to solve. One senior focus group participant reported that his Medicare supplemental insurance would not cover him if he had his permanent address in Grand County.

Besides healthcare, affordable housing and assisted living for seniors, especially for residents on limited incomes, were identified by the assessment as other areas of need.

Grand County’s median home price is higher than that of similar mountain communities, according to the report, so affordable housing for workers and retirees is especially difficult to find.

In summary, the complaints about health and human services boil down to the perceptions that access is not good, specialties are absent or rare, and there is little health insurance for seasonal employees.

Other human services that appear to be lacking are affordable housing and assisted living for seniors.

What, then, are the opportunities for remedy?

Asserting that specialty services are “not optional for a county that intends to attract and keep full-time residents and second homeowners,” the study notes that a new healthcare facility is scheduled in response to the growing needs in the county, offering easier access to a broader array of services including advanced imaging and outpatient surgery, and hopes that planners will review this study in order to respond to the concerns of residents and their list of needs.

It should be noted that since this survey Granby Medical has acquired a CT scanner.

Other opportunities cited include: sharing the market research to help plan for future needs such as using findings from the study to encourage more specialists to relocate and/or provide services in Grand County; communicating to residents and potential residents through marketing materials, newspapers and meetings the high priority that good health services have in Grand County and what the plans are to improve those services; expanding programs and services to assist low-income resident workers and retirees to find the local healthcare they need.

In addition, the study recommends working with businesses, insurers, government and other interested parties to explore strategies to address the health insurance issues raised in the study.

It encourages govenrment officials to consider zoning regulations that encourage affordable housing options and outlines the need to develop programs that reduce housing costs for low-income residents and seniors. Housing costs can further be reduced through popular programs such as real estate tax relief or deferral and home energy assistance.

Senior homeowner tax exemption was noted, but is currently unavailable. And a final suggestion would be to partner with developers and builders to provide affordable housing projects.

In general, Grand County residents who responded to the survey gave positive ratings to their quality of life.

The vast majority felt that Grand County is a good place to live.

People love the area because of its natural beauty, outdoor activities and small-town atmosphere. With planning, accessibility to and affordability of health care may be added to that list.

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