DANVILLE - Three key needs were identified in a Community Health Needs Assessment that covered a five-county area, including that served by Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital (G-SACH).

A repeating three-year process required by the government, the assessment identified the following needs:

- Improving access to affordable health care for under/uninsured residents.

- Improving healthy behaviors.

- Need for transportation to health service providers.

A final report was issued in June, and work is ongoing to address the findings.

"There are a couple ideas on the table for the Shamokin area that we're assessing in terms of reacting to these needs," said Tom Sokola, chief administrative officer (CAO) for Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, which shares its license with G-SACH.

"We're working through, for example, how do we address the access issue," said Tom Harlow, G-SACH CAO. "Does that mean we need more physicians? If so, what kind of physicians? And where?"

Harlow said it's not simply a matter of scheduling a few health fairs.

"It's more long-term. It's lifestyles - cardiovascular disease," he cited as an example. "Maybe we work with the local school districts to get to kids early,"

He said G-SACH is working to develop some priorities to share with the community.

Some notes from the assessment:

- Community leaders, key stakeholders and focus group participants agree that while there is ample medical resources and health care facilities in the five-county region, access to health care resources can be limited by health insurance coverage (i.e., provider acceptance of state-funded health insurance and affordable health insurance options) and the availability of providers particularly those that reside in the more rural areas and/or those that are under/uninsured.

- Shamokin, when compared to the G-SACH community, shows the highest rates of uninsured individuals (20 percent) followed by Mount Carmel (16 percent), both of which are higher than the five-county study area (10.4 percent) and Pennsylvania (14 percent).

- Community leaders stated that state-funded health insurance is not readily accepted in the area, causing residents to travel lengthy distances to receive health services.

- Need for increased awareness and education, motivation and/or incentives for residents that practice healthy behavior and increased access to healthy options.

- Lifestyles of some residents may have an impact on their individual health status and, consequently, cause an increase in the consumption of health care resources. Specifically, community leaders and stakeholders discussed lifestyle choices (poor nutrition, inactivity, smoking, substance abuse, including alcohol and other drugs, etc.) that can lead to chronic illnesses (obesity, diabetes, pulmonary diseases, etc).

- While community leaders acknowledged that there are transportation systems operating in the region, they believe those systems are limited and disjointed. While there are transportation systems administered at the county level, each county transit system does not carry residents across county lines. It is believed that the lack of transportation presents residents with barriers to accessing available community services, including health care, mental health care, etc.

- The News-Item