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County medical needs may be studied

An advisory board is seeking about $27,000 for a study on how medical needs are _ or aren't _ being met.

If the rate of diabetes is going up in Hernando County, they'll find out. They'll learn how many people are dying before age 74 and how. They'll learn who's getting needed health services, who's not and why.

The Hernando County Health Care Advisory Board hopes to learn all these things and more through a needs assessment that will help create an inventory of health services provided in the county and fill any looming gaps.

The board is seeking an estimated $27,000, after volunteer work is counted, through grants from the county, area hospitals and others for the yearlong study.

"It's a tremendous task; it's not something we can do as subcommittee members," Elizabeth Callaghan, administrator of the Hernando County Health Department and head of the advisory board's team on the issue, said during a board meeting last week.

The last needs assessment done in Hernando County was by the North Central Florida Health Planning Council, whose final report was released in June 1995.

It found that at the time, as many as 28,000 Hernando County residents lacked health care insurance. It also found that more than 40 people with AIDS did not have a physician or clinical services in Hernando County. Almost 71 percent of Medicaid-eligible residents lived in Brooksville, while only half of the Medicaid service providers were located there. The other half were in Spring Hill. It found that 15,500 residents were Medicaid recipients during 1993, an increase of 368 percent from 1989. The wait for psychiatric care was three to five weeks.

An updated study is warranted to learn whether these and new needs are being met as well as to discover ways to enlist more preventive care, board members said.

The study could entail building a profile of the county by gathering statistics on demographics and socioeconomic characteristics from state education, child welfare and health agencies, as well as the U.S. Census.

It could also provide a medical profile of the county by looking at statistics related to hospitalization, access to primary care and mortality. Also included could be a list of available heath services, a community survey on health care needs and an analysis of the county's environmental health.

Committee members will decide after securing money how the study will be conducted. Options include mailings and telephone surveys.

"By having one of these complete, especially since it's been so long, the main idea is to have a better idea of what we have in this county, what our needs are and where we need to direct our efforts," said Jean Rags, the county's social services coordinator.

"Everybody benefits from it. If the (county) commission is better informed with what's out there and what we need, then they can make better budget decisions," Rags said.

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