Contributed by Jim Hayes
President and CEO, UnityPoint Health – Trinity Muscatine

Studies have shown us that access to health care is a challenge for smaller communities in Iowa. There is a shortage of family practice and internal medicine physicians as well as psychiatrists not just here, but nationwide as well. Finding one that is interested in working in a smaller community and not being around the bright lights of the big city and all of the resources of a large medical center provides is difficult.

In fact, less than one percent of the physicians graduating from residency programs are interested in rural communities. Many of these graduates are attracted to fellowships that will eventually result in their becoming specialists. Once this occurs, there is an even lower chance that they will end up in a rural community.

So what can our community do to fill this need? Work together.

This need has been identified in Muscatine County through a process coordinated by Trinity Muscatine Public Health Department. The Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) is a data-based study of our community that is done every three years. From the information collected, the community’s Health Improvement Plan (HIP) is developed. This plan has oversight from the Trinity Muscatine’s Community Effectiveness Committee and the Muscatine County Board of Health.
This year the CHNA-HIP process was completed, and three areas were identified in the plan. They are:

1. Infrastructure – Access to and capacity of primary care providers in the county
2. Mental Health – Access to and capacity of mental health services in the county
3. Healthy Behaviors – Improving healthy behaviors within all socio-economic groups in the county

Now the work begins. There is a task force for each of the areas above and, over the next three years, each task force will be charged with the work of developing the plan and meeting the goals identified by the HIP.

The key is coordination. There may be multiple groups working on some of these areas already. We need to be sure that we don’t waste time and money re-doing work that has already been done. In order to avoid this duplication, we are discussing a way for all of these groups to communicate. If anyone in the county is interested in participating in the plan or on one of the taskforces, please contact Trinity Muscatine Public Health.

We have a tremendous community, great resources and super people dedicated to keeping our community vibrant and healthy. It is a huge effort to maintain and continue our progress. It is extremely important that we make sure that we consider the needs of as many people in our county as possible. It takes effort and persistence—two of the many key attributes of Muscatine County residents.