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Maine hospitals want to hear from public about community health needs

The fourth Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment is underway. A MaineHealth forum for the Greater Portland area is happening via Zoom Tuesday afternoon.

PORTLAND, Maine — Hospitals in Maine are on a mission to help their communities become some of the healthiest across the United States. To do so, officials are asking for input from members of the public about what they think the biggest community health issues are in their region.

This initiative is part of the fourth Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment. This assessment happens every three years, as part of the Affordable Care Act. The Internal Revenue Service requires all non-profit hospitals across the United States to take part -- so MaineHealth, Northern Light Health, Central Maine Healthcare, and MaineGeneral Health are all partnering to do so. 

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Dr. Dora Anne Mills is the chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth. She said the first step of this assessment is to collect health data during a process that happens over the summer. Health profiles for every county in Maine are now online. Next, community forums for some regions will take place, so members of the public can review the data and discuss what they think the biggest health issues are in their area. Finally, officials will review the forum feedback alongside the data to help create plans about how to prioritize hospital spending.

"MaineHealth has used these Community Health Needs Assessments, the data collected, and, very importantly, the community input from the forums -- so we've invested real dollars in these programs," Mills said. "We hope that people come out the next few weeks at their community forums and give us the input that we need and want to make sure that our dollars in the future are invested in ways they're really going to improve the health of our communities."

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Mills said during the last assessment three years ago, MaineHealth determined a few major issues to prioritize. One was substance use, particularly among pregnant women, so the health care organization worked with delivery hospitals to get new mothers with substance use issues help. Another was food insecurity, so MaineHealth established food pantries at its locations in Farmington and Norway. MaineHealth also invested half a million dollars to offer free obesity and diabetes prevention services to people in the area. 

Mills said she's curious to see how the pandemic may impact people's perceptions of important issues.

"I think the community forums this year in particular are more important because the data is pre-pandemic that we'll be looking at -- so, we really need people to let us know what are their concerns for the major health issues in their communities, and what can we do to help?" Mills explained. 

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Mills said all 12 of MaineHealth's hospitals are conducting forums, and so are some other hospitals in the state. A forum for the Greater Portland area is happening from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5, via Zoom. This year, MaineHealth is also doing on-the-ground surveys among new Mainer populations for people who may not be comfortable using Zoom or speaking English.

Mills said the state government and other organizations also use the data collected with the assessments. To learn more, click here.