Survey details health-care needs in South Jersey

Posted: July 27, 2013

Nearly one in six Camden County diabetics surveyed said that they had not seen a health professional in the last year. One in eight of those polled in Gloucester County reported health problems that required special medical equipment. And one in seven in Burlington County rated themselves in poor physical health for 15 to 30 days over the last month - all levels higher than national and New Jersey averages.

These were just a few of the findings presented Thursday morning by Holleran, a Lancaster consulting firm, from its 2013 tri-county health assessment to an audience of South Jersey hospital executives and government officials.

Holleran, in collaboration with five health systems, 12 hospitals, the health departments of Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington Counties, and an array of community groups, developed over the last nine months a comprehensive health-needs report of the communities they serve.

The reports are required by the Affordable Care Act. Their purpose is to make sure that the money hospitals spend on community health benefits, which helps ensure their tax-exempt status, aligns with communities' needs.

Virtually all nonprofit hospitals spend money on programs to improve community health, but this report can help them determine priorities.

"This is specifically from the voice of the customer and the community," said Catherine R. Curley, director of community outreach at Virtua Health. "There's always a bit of a gap between what we think our community wants compared to what they say they actually need."

The findings were based on focus groups and telephone and online surveys with 2,710 South Jersey residents, as well as more than 150 interviews with local leaders.

Holleran consultants found that the most acute issues across the tri-county area were lack of access to care, chronic disease and weight management, and mental-health and substance-abuse services.

A smaller, on-site survey of 165 Camden City residents painted a stark picture. More than half of the respondents who had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their life still smoked daily; more than a quarter had asthma; and more than a third said costs prevented them from seeing a doctor even when they needed care.

Holleran consultant Janeen Maxwell urged caution around these numbers due to the small sample size, but said they suggested serious health needs.

Although this was the first time that members saw summary numbers, some were not surprised.

"While the data made some of these problems a little more evident, there weren't a lot of surprises for us," said Joseph W. Devine, president and chief executive officer of Kennedy University Hospitals.

He noted that with more granular data, access to care and behavioral modification were two areas where Kennedy could continue to expand services.

The next step for the collaboration will be to tailor service-area reports for individual hospitals, including those at Cooper University Health Care, Lourdes Health System, and Inspira Medical Center-Woodbury. Those are expected to be done in the fall and open to the public. After that, hospitals will develop programs or retool existing ones.

Members of the collaborative are excited to continue the joint work. "That's our lifeline," said Paschal Nwako, health officer at the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services. While the project is a partnership of competitors, Nwako said, "the best way to improve health care is through collaboration, and everyone needs to come together."

Contact Curtis Skinner at 215-854-2930 or, or follow on Twitter @CurtisOrion.

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