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A Shared Priority

Deidre-Photo-1.jpgDeidre Gilbert, PharmD, AEMT, can tell you all about the critical needs of her community. As the director of Pharmacy at Northern Light CA Dean Hospital and system community health leader, Deidre can be found rounding with staff on the inpatient unit, finding healthy food resources for a patient, reconciling medications in the practices, or hopping into an ambulance that is racing out to a call as a volunteer EMT. If anyone knows this community, it’s Deidre.
 
“It’s very rural here,” Deidre explains of CA Dean’s service area, which is all of Piscataquis and most of Somerset Counties. “When they visit, people don’t understand how far they are from healthcare. It's a different level of seclusion up here.”
 
It’s that seclusion and other aspects of rural life that can influence patients’ ability to be healthy. Making your health a priority is hard if you have no reliable transportation or housing, no access to a stable job, or enough food to eat. These and many other social determinants of health directly affect health and quality-of-life outcomes, and are as important to providers like Deidre as any service CA Dean provides.    
 
“We have some of the oldest, sickest patients in the state,” Deidre reflects. “We see many with multiple diseases who are taking ten or more medications. A lot of the things that our patients experience at home affect their health. It’s unbelievable how much these social determinants of health influence a person’s ability to be well.”
 
Social determinants of health was selected as one of the two Northern Light Health shared system community health strategy priorities that each member organization will address over the next three years (FY20-22); the other priority is substance use. We chose these shared priorities, in addition to member-specific priorities, based on data from the 2019 Shared Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA).
 
“By working together on shared priorities, our community health leader—like Deidre—share insights, best practices, and lessons learned to strengthen our work across the state,” highlights Doug Michael, associate vice president, Community Health and Grants. At the same time, each member also addresses unique needs and priorities specific to local patients and communities.
 
The community health strategy priorities also help our member leaders and boards create a better road map for the services patients will need decades from now. “CA Dean Hospital must be ready to deliver care to a diverse population with very different needs,” points out Linda Gilbert, board chair, Northern Light CA Dean Hospital, who has served on the board for nearly twenty years. “We want to be ahead of the curve and be the best at what we are.” CA Dean also plans to concentrate its efforts on expanding patient access to mental healthcare providers through telepsychiatry and telehealth services in partnership with Northern Light Acadia Hospital. 
 
Deidre believes that all of us—no matter our role at Northern Light Health—have a stake in our community health strategies. “We focus on health priorities because these patients are our neighbors, our kids’ friends; these are the people we work with.”
 
While the CHNA and input from the community are critical to understanding patient needs, Linda also stresses that the employees of our system play a significant role in identifying better ways to help our patients beyond the walls of our organizations. “Employees have so much knowledge to share; we want to hear from them. They know things that board members don’t think about—they are the heart and soul of the hospital.”
 
Learn more about the most pressing community health issues in your community and see what we’re doing to address them at https://northernlighthealth.org/Community-Health-Needs-Assessment/2019-CHNA-Reports/Community-Health-Strategy.