Citizens to help prescribe community's health

8:49:37 AM CDT - Thursday, February 12, 2004

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

About the assembly

About 150 to 200 county officials, health care professionals, civic and business leaders, and community citizens are expected to participate in the Sedgwick County Assembly: Prescription for Healthy Citizens, according to organizer Misty Bruckner.

The Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs, which has hosted other such community discussions, is hosting the invitation-only assembly March 12-13 at WSU.

Joe Pisciotte, a professor in the Hugo Wall School, is putting together more than 150 pages of background material that the participants will review before the meeting. Results from the citizen survey on community health issues, conducted by WSU professor Mark Glaser, will also be discussed.

Jeffrey Koplan, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who now is at Emory University, will be the keynote speaker.

It's a pretty safe bet that in the last couple of weeks in January, no one at WSU got more mail than Mark Glaser, a professor in the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs.

That's because Glaser received about 6,200 responses to the latest of the many citizen surveys he's conducted over the years.

On Jan. 7, Sedgwick County officials mailed 25,000 surveys to get a pulse on what residents think about community health issues. The survey, written by Glaser, was expected to reach one of every five households in the county.

Glaser has become known nationally as a pioneer in developing citizen surveys that help engage residents in community decision-making. Locally, he's done a quality-of-life survey of Wichita residents and he's helped the Wichita school district gauge community support for its public schools. He's done work with local governments across the country as well, on issues such as immigrant services and faith-based initiatives.

In his latest survey, he's helping Sedgwick County leaders determine a prescription for community health. The input will help leaders understand what the public expects county government to provide in health prevention and public health issues.

Two years ago, Sedgwick County assumed administrative and primary financial responsibilities for public health services in the county. Responsibilities had been shared with Wichita in the past. County government is being proactive now, says Glaser, in figuring out where it should spend public tax dollars.

According to recent reports, the county spends about $80 million a year on health services, such as immunizations for children and maternal care for expectant mothers. Emerging issues such as bioterrorism, new infectious diseases and even the global economy are putting more strains on public health costs.

"One of the challenges for American companies is labor costs," says Glaser. "Our labor costs are higher than many countries, and rising health care costs are a key component of labor costs. American businesses are looking for ways of lowering their costs and becoming more competitive, and many will choose to drop or reduce health-related benefits."

If employers no longer cover health care for their employees, communities across America will need to determine what services they'll provide to their residents.

"Everyone has their own ideas about public health, government health and those kinds of things," says Glaser.

With the 6,200 survey returns, Glaser will be able to present information on what ideas Sedgwick County residents have on those issues at a health assembly in March. The Hugo Wall School received a $93,409 grant from the county to conduct the survey and host the March 12-13 meeting at WSU.
Glaser is in the midst of analyzing the data and will present initial results to county officials later this month.

The 64-question survey asked residents about quality of life in America and health care experiences, access and philosophy; and for their recommendations on how the county should use tax dollars for public health. The survey also asked residents about their willingness to pay for health care investments.

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