A meeting to discuss the results of the Community Health Status Assessment conducted through the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships process will be held at 9 a.m. Monday at the Kenai Public Health Center on Barnacle Way. It is open to the public.
By Jenny Neyman
Regina Theisen isn’t fond of the idea of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
As a public health nurse, there’s the cringe-inducing literal imagery to bristle at — babies being ignored in water, much less being thrown under any circumstances.
As the organizer of a communitywide process to identify health concerns and work collaboratively on initiatives to address these concerns, she also dislikes the idea of discarding what already exists.
Theisen, a public health nurse at the Kenai Public Health Center, and others have been working with a Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships process for over a year now. It’s a nationally known, community-driven process with the goal of assessing what health problems, obstacles or gaps in services exist in a community and facilitating planning to address those concerns.
Theisen is familiar with the MAPP process through her work in public health, as it is often employed in that field. She said she particularly likes that MAPP doesn’t start from scratch. Part of the assessment is determining the good — what services and resources do exist in the community — along with the bad, and finding ways to utilize what’s already been done.
“What I liked about it is it built on what’s already here instead of starting from square one, so we utilized assessments that have already been done here,” Theisen said. “That is a big thing because we are a proactive community. A lot of the resources that we have around health are because people came to the table and started working on things at a grassroots level.”
A community-driven assessment process as a way to address needs isn’t a new concept on the central Kenai Peninsula. That’s how the Aspen Dental Clinic, Cottonwood Health Center, Unity Trail and Central Area Rural Transit System came about, Theisen said.
“What I feel like we’re doing is reigniting this community grassroots process. Change happens form the bottom up,” she said.
The process started in March and led to a communitywide Got Health Celebration in November at Soldotna High School, which brought in representatives of a wide swath of agencies, demographics and sectors of the community to get involved in the MAPP visioning process. The group has since been working on the assessment, determining what’s here and what isn’t, what works and what doesn’t, and how to get from the former to the latter.
“We’re going to look at that information and talk about, ‘OK, these are the things that you have told us. This is what seems to be resurfacing. And what can we, as a community, tackle together?’ And the idea is that we will come up with some community health initiatives,” Theisen said. “We know that there are holes, but which holes can we address and accomplish something?”
The MAPP process emphasizes collaboration. Part of that comes from involving diverse viewpoints in the visioning and assessment process.
“We’ve tried to engage anyone and everyone — senior centers, the hospital, health centers, physician offices. We’ve interviewed kids and seniors, the LeeShore Center, the food bank, Love, INC. The strength of this process is going to be the participation of the community at large,” Theisen said.
Another part of the collaboration is in pooling resources and organizing efforts so as to kill multiple birds with one stone.
Oops. There’s that cringe-worthy hyperbole again. More like, organize efforts to get the most bang for their buck.
“What we’re trying to figure out is what we can do strategically as a whole community. What we know is that we have all these health issues and concerns, but they’re related to each other,” Theisen said. “You think of senior citizens — lack of resources, isolation, mental health issues, transportation problems. You look at the health issues that they’re dealing with and you put it in another population — teens, for example — and transportation is a problem, mental health issues are a problem, access to care is a problem. You take it to early childhood, with new moms, maybe. Same thing. Or low-income populations. They’re all dealing with the same issues but different barriers to access.”
The MAPP process has identified several stumbling blocks to health in the community. One, a lack of providers and caregivers, crops up in several topics. The volunteer Hospice of the Central Peninsula, for instance, works wonders but isn’t a round-the-clock, full-blown agency, Theisen said. Even Frontier Community Services, which hires people to work with those needing services, from kids with disabilities to seniors with Alzheimer’s, often scrambles to find enough caregivers.
“(We’re seeing) how critical it is to have that workforce, but how hard it is to have enough people to serve that population,” Theisen said.
Once needs and gaps are identified, the MAPP process guides thinking about how to address them effectively, whether that means building a new facility, looking for funding to replace grants that are drying up, or generating more volunteers.
“It’s a matter of having that discussion, looking at the information that we’ve gathered and then deciding, ‘What can we work on together?’ The idea is to try to work on something that will give us the most bang for our buck and to utilize the systems that are already in place, instead of starting something new,” she said.
A common problem voiced in the MAPP process is a lack of a comprehensive, easily accessible directory to all the health and wellness services that do exist in the community, like a website clearinghouse with links to all the various agencies and programs.
“Another thing that keeps coming up is there’s great opportunity in our community for mentorships throughout the lifespan, and I think that is beneficial for the mentor as well as the mentored,” Theisen said. “And when you think about resources and what makes a community, I think that it has been clearly articulated that a good community has people who are involved and want to give back. I’ve heard that expressed over and over again. We need to learn to step up and give to our community.”
If the how is through the MAPP process, then the time to get involved is now. The MAPP organizers are planning a meeting at 9 a.m. Monday at the Kenai Health Center to present the findings of the Community Health Status Assessment conducted through the MAPP process. It is open to the public, whether the participants are directly involved in health and service sectors or not. In a sense, everyone in the community is already involved in the health of the community.
“The take-home message that I want people to have is our community is only as strong as the people who live in it,” Theisen said. “I do believe that communities have a power to make themselves well and healthy.”