Health district polls res­i­dents to check on sys­tem’s strength

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Mary Ann Roser

If you’ve been to a Travis County farm­ers mar­ket in re­cent weeks, you might have seen them: peo­ple in their 20s in bright orange T-shirts printed with pur­ple di­a­logue boxes that say, “Join In a Healthy Con­ver­sa­tion.”

They are try­ing to take the com­mu­nity’s pulse on be­half of Cen­tral Health, for­merly the Travis County Health­care District. District of­fi­cials want to know how well the health care de­liv­ery sys­tem is work­ing — or not work­ing. But they also want to use the “lis­ten­ing project” to raise the district’s pro­file.

“The goal is to find out what the com­mu­nity wants and let­ting the commu- nity know who we are and that we are there and ready to work with them,” said Dr. Tom Coop­wood, Cen­tral Health board chair­man.

The project, called the Cen­tral Health Con­nec­tion Ini­tia­tive, is ex­pected to cost up to $400,000 un­der an 18-month con­tract with SUMA/Or­chard So­cial Mar­ket­ing Inc., an Austin con­sult­ing firm.

SUMA/Or­chard has been work­ing on com­mu­nity out­reach, in­clud­ing fo­cus group meet­ings and a phone sur­vey that asked 541 re­spon­dents where they go for care, how easy it is to get and how sat­is­fied they are.

The sur­vey also asked peo­ple about their in­surance sta­tus and the feder-

al health care law, as well as whether they would fa­vor Cen­tral Health ex­pand­ing ser­vices and would pay higher taxes to fi­nance those ser­vices.

By midweek, it had gath­ered com­ments from about 825 peo­ple, in­clud­ing phone sur­vey par­tic­i­pants, and it hopes to in­ter­view at least “a cou­ple of thou­sand” peo­ple at com­mu­nity events, said Christie Garbe, a spokes­woman for Cen­tral Health. It’s the first time the district has di­rectly asked con­sumers about ser­vices, she said.

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, as rain in­ter­rupted a blaz­ing sun out­side a small farm­ers mar­ket at the Rose­wood Zaragosa Health Cen­ter on Web­berville Road, out­reach leader Ju­lia Win­ston and two out­reach work­ers stood un­der a white tent, ask­ing passers-by whether they wanted to take a short sur­vey about the health care sys­tem.

Some peo­ple hur­ried by, but about 14 took the sur­vey over a two-hour pe­riod, re­ceiv­ing small pack­ets of sun­screen and aloe for par­tic­i­pat­ing. Oth­ers chat­ted briefly and took brochures, and a few in­di­cated in­ter­est in tak­ing the sur­vey on­line at http://cen­tral­health­con­nec­tion.net.

Out­reach work­ers Jose Men­doza and Michael Abrams in­ter­viewed many of the His­panic clients in Span­ish.

Laura Ro­driguez, 33, who came with her 4-year-old daugh­ter, Emily Her­nan­dez, said she had to wait a cou­ple of months to get an ap­point­ment and ques­tioned why she had to wait so long when she was sick. She was among many re­spon­dents that morn­ing who sug­gested that more ap­point­ments be made avail­able.

Abrams said he has de­tected com­mon themes since the project started: “Peo­ple want eas­ier ac­cess (to health care ser­vices), and they want that ac­cess to be cheaper. And they don’t want to wait to see a doc­tor.”

Over the next cou­ple of months, out­reach teams plan to be at farm­ers mar­kets, out­door con­certs and other events. Cen­tral Health uses prop­erty tax money to pro­vide health care ser­vices to unin­sured and un­der­in­sured peo­ple in Travis County in part­ner­ship with hos­pi­tals, clin­ics and other health or­ga­ni­za­tions.

It plans to pro­duce a re­port on the project’s find­ings, along with rec­om­men­da­tions for its board to con­sider.

“Our thought was, let’s ask the peo­ple who use the ser­vices,” said se­nior health plan­ner Ellen Richards, the project’s leader. “It’s in­for­ma­tion Cen­tral Health could use or our part­ners can use.”

Larry Kolvo­ord

Cen­tral Health out­reach worker Jose Men­doza, left, talks Wed­nes­day with Abi­gail Lopez and Al­fredo Ruiz Gon­za­lez out­side the Rose­wood Zaragosa Health Cen­ter.

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