Hospitals launch Healthier Sussex County initiative

Last week, three major healthcare providers in Sussex County — Beebe Medical Center, Nanticoke Health Services and Bayhealth Medical Center — came together to announce they would be teaming up to create an initiative called Healthier Sussex County.

“We don’t always see hospitals and health systems working together to help their communities,” Jeffrey Fried, president and CEO of Beebe. “With the challenges that our healthcare system is facing today, we recognize that we really need a different approach to healthcare, to improve it and reduce costs.”

Fried said it is the initiative’s goal to have Sussex County be one of the healthiest counties in the nation. So far, the initiative has created a task force to target breast cancer and diabetes issues in the county.

“We wanted to identify not only meaningful and achievable issues, but we also wanted to develop some experience from the people in our collective organizations,” Fried explained.

According to Steven Rose, president and CEO of Nanticoke Health Services, in Sussex County in 2008, less than 10 percent of people had diabetes. Today, almost 12 percent of people are diabetic.

“That’s a significant increase and an alarming number. We need to make improvements,” he said. “Getting back to our numbers in 2008, just dropping 2 percentage points is a huge number. That would be marvelous.”

Rose said that improving the diabetes rates in the county would require the healthcare centers to improve screenings, so that more residents would have them.

“How many have it and don’t know?” asked Rose, adding that the HgbA1C test is important because the result reflects an individual’s average blood sugar over the previous three months, providing imperative information regarding the quality of blood sugar control, severity of diabetes and impact of treatment.

Rose said that that the “simple blood test” will be initially available at 10 physicians’ offices throughout the county.

The healthcare centers also hope to better educate those who are diagnosed with diabetes as to how they must change their lifestyle.

“Once someone is diagnosed with diabetes, they change their lifestyle. Diabetes can impact vision, circulation, and if that goes unchecked, you could die from diabetes. It’s really a critical disease, so the education part is so, so important,” Rose said. “This is a huge challenge for us and really something we need to tackle here in Sussex County.”

Although Delaware ranks in the top 10 percent nationally for breast cancer screenings, the initiative will also focus on improving the number of mammography screenings.

“Patients with Medicare are screened 10 to 13 percent less often,” said Terry Murphy, president and CEO of Bayhealth Medical Center. “We’ve identified high-risk populations that require outreach to increase these screenings. Those are women who are uninsured or underinsured, minority women and women over 65 years of age.”

Murphy said that the healthcare providers plan to expand education and awareness to women 40 or older, and to give educational seminars at colleges, universities, faith-based organizations and other community organizations. He said they also hope to align their efforts with other Delaware breast-cancer coalition organizations and plan to evaluate the screening efforts of mid-level providers.

“It is a community effort. It takes a number of different groups of organizations to pull together. It requires additional push and emphasis, keeping an eye on what’s being done and finding out where we can do more.”

Because mammograms require sophisticated equipment, Murphy said, screenings will be available primarily through outpatient facilities. In addition, all three hospitals have outreach-care coordinators who will help women find a location for a screening.

“There is really no reason for any woman in Sussex County to not have a mammogram,” added Melinda Huffman, a cancer-screening nurse-navigator at Nanticoke Health Services. “We have screening for life. We have CHAPS, if they’re not Medicaid-eligible. If they’re underinsured or do not have the money, there is a way to get a mammogram. There is really no excuse that we cannot be 100 percent.”

Fried said the healthcare providers are hoping to take an active role in the community to better the health of its citizens.

“We’re actively involved in reducing a very dangerous trend in this country. It’s really about reversing the trend and making a community healthier.”

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