From mental well-being to chronic disease, here’s how Centre County is tackling top concerns in public health

Mount Nittany Health focusing on three things that affect the community

Executive Vice President of Mount Nittany Health Tom Charles introduces the topics at the 2019 Community health needs assessment forum on Friday, March 15, 2019.
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Executive Vice President of Mount Nittany Health Tom Charles introduces the topics at the 2019 Community health needs assessment forum on Friday, March 15, 2019.

Mental health and substance abuse persist as prime concerns for Centre County’s health and human services organizations, according to a recent survey that took center stage Friday at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

Three years since an initial Community Health Needs Assessment, health and wellness professionals gathered at the facility to highlight recent steps taken for public health and explore challenges they should tackle next.

The 2016 assessment, through a community partnership at Mount Nittany Health, identified behavioral health, substance abuse and chronic disease as the main health issues affecting county residents. Those areas still ranked as the biggest concerns when organizers contacted community partners again this year, Mount Nittany spokeswoman Nichole Monica said.

“The initial assessment was as opportunity for us to collectively, as a community, to identify some really big priority areas,” Monica said. “Now, in 2019, it’s an opportunity to us to get a snapshot of where we are as a community but also to have a lot more info collectively about what’s happening in different areas and regions in our community.”

In this year’s survey results — representing participants at more than a dozen community health and human service organizations — 65.5 percent of respondents listed mental health conditions as the top health concern. Nearly 54 percent listed substance abuse, and nearly 42 percent said obesity.

Where the last assessment focused on county needs as a whole, this year’s is working to collect more detailed information on specific communities that might have their own unique challenges.

More than 15 organizations participated in Friday’s forum, which centered largely on sharing data and success stories while fostering another three-year plan. Full results from the 2019 needs assessment are still being compiled.

Here are some strides that participants identified:

Centre County Out of the Darkness Walk chair Shanon Quick speaks before the annual walk after being presented the Founders Award on Sunday, April 24 , 2016 at Sidney Freidman Park in State College. Kelsie Netzer Centre Daily Times, file

Behavioral health

Recognizing that emergency room is a large landing point for patients with behavioral health issues, Mount Nittany hired case managers to be available at all hours in its emergency department, said Tom Charles, executive vice president of Mount Nittany Health. Those managers work with patients admitted for those reasons to develop specialized treatment plans.

Mount Nittany Physician Group also has integrated behavioral health aspects into primary care practices, including in its new primary care location in Philipsburg.

The 2019 survey results showed adults in the county reported four days of poor mental health per month. Fifty-four suicides were reported from 2014 to 2016.

Marisa Vicere, president of the Jana Marie Foundation and chairwoman of the Centre County Suicide Prevention Task Force, said the biggest challenges she’s seen over the past three years involve accessing rural communities and making sure all patients get the help they need.

Data from the needs assessments help her organizations focus, she said.

“We’ve been able to take that data back and review it even further and really focus in on where are the gaps right now, what programs aren’t being utilized as effectively or efficiently as they should be,” Vicere said.

Opioid overdose kits containing a dose of naloxone, such as this, are carried by law enforcement officers throughout Centre County who may be called upon as first responders to revive an unresponsive person. Centre Daily Times, file

Substance abuse

The county saw 45 drug overdose deaths from 2015 to 2017, with 22 of those being recorded in 2018, according to the latest assessment.

Started three years ago, the Centre County Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education Initiative has attempted to eliminate substance abuse and reduce stigma around its treatment. The effort, known as the HOPE Initiative, targets people who’ve come into contact with law enforcement, trying to get them help for substance abuse.

It counts naloxone distribution and drug take-back programs as two of its biggest successes.

HOPE has distributed overdose-reversing naloxone to all municipal police departments, the county Sheriff’s Office, EMS departments and the Centre County Correctional Facility. In 2018, HOPE also collected 1,727 pounds of prescription drugs.

Hospital employees, financial donors and members of the community watch the final steel beam in the construction of the new cardiovascular pavilion at Mount Nittany Medical Center be placed during a ceremony on Friday, August 10, 2018. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

Chronic disease

To help reduce costly visits to the ER and lengthy hospital stays caused by chronic conditions often seen in older populations, Mount Nittany has reinvested $234 million in the community since 2009 — largely focused on treatment of chronic disease symptoms

One of the major investments is the $3.5 million cardiovascular pavilion being built above the hospital’s emergency department. The pavilion will include two labs for both cardiovascular and electrophysiology procedures. Additionally, it will have an electrocardiogram exam room; four echocardiography/stress test exam rooms; and eight prep/recovery bays.

The idea is to get heart patients preventive care and treatment locally.

“Next month we’re opening up a heart failure program that’s really going to help people who have that specific condition,” Monica said.

Mount Nittany also has added a program to detect lung cancer early, a stroke-certified institution and in-patient diabetic care.

”I think it’s important to note that this community starts from a health strength,” Monica said. “There’s a lot of really good things going on here and collectively it’s been community agencies and groups that have rallied around these areas, whether it be substance abuse or mental health or chronic disease. And they may have been doing some of that work before, and they’re doing even more of it now.”