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Health Survey indicates people
want more health care services

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
July, 1996

Seeley Lake residents who participated in a recent health care survey said they would like to see a broader range of professional health care services offered in Seeley Lake.

Although a wide variety of local services are available, they are available on a limited basis, and to limited segments of the population, the report said. Community awareness of services and how to access them is marginal, according to the report.

The most-needed service identified in the report is a doctor on-call for urgent, minor emergency situations.

According to Jeanne Moon, special project assistant from Seeley Lake, residents who participated in the assessment indicated that they would like to have a doctor on-call in Seeley Lake to evaluate minor trauma, before they travel to Missoula for other services. Respondents frequently mentioned services such as "a few stitches," x-rays and prescriptions.

The Seeley Swan Medical Center offers some services during business hours. Otherwise, local ambulance, fire district and quick response unit (QRU) crews-all volunteers-are called upon through the 9-1-1 emergency system.

The survey-the Maternal and Child Health Assessment-was funded through the Missoula City-County Health Department earlier this year and paid for with federal maternal-child health monies obtained by Missoula County. The focus of the project was young families. However, health care issues are much broader here, Moon said, and the results of the survey will help determine the future of all health care services in Seeley Lake, not just those projects that will benefit children and young families.

Data gathered during the project shows that Seeley Lake's population doubled during the past six years, from 1,307 people in 1990 to an estimated 2,250 in 1996. School age children in 1990 numbered approximately 262. In 1996 there were approximately 407.

Results of the report indicate that community appears to be in a state of transition because of the large population increase. Seeley Lake is no longer just a "rural area of Missoula County," the report said. Instead, residents see themselves as belonging to an independent community that happens to be located in a rural part of the county.

The composition of the community is also changing, Moon explained. Newcomers hail from urban areas where they benefited from a larger variety of professional health care services, she said.

Anita Richards, who served as Health Assessement Task Force chairman, confirmed the survey findings. Attitudes toward health care in Seeley Lake have changed over the past several years, she said. In the past, local residents scheduled regular trips to Missoula for groceries, banking and other personal business. Since Seeley Lake residents now enjoy the benefits of their own local bank, a large grocery store, and dozens of other small, service-oriented businesses, people are asking why health care services in the community can't be more accessible, too. "People would rather not travel to Missoula for services, if they don't have to," she explained.

That attitude might explain some of the survey findings specific to children in Seeley Lake.

"In 1990, we had more families on AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) than we do now," Moon explained. In 1996, 33% of children enrolled at the elementary school and 20% of those in high school qualified for free lunch programs. That means that between twenty and thirty percent of Seeley Lake families have a household income at or near the poverty level, Moon said.

"Yet we have seen a drop in the number of families collecting AFDC. What does that mean? Are they unable to access health care?" she wondered, indicating that families might not be willing or able to travel to Missoula for services.

The report, which Moon recently delivered to the Missoula County Health Department, summarized attitudes this way-"Seeley Lake's geogaphic distance from urban centers, coupled with its natural environment, are attractive elements to individuals and families seeking rural living. However, when community members find themselves in situations of unexpected dependency, medical and social services are difficult to access."

Seeley Lake residents are generally self-reliant, the report said, but winter weather, road conditions, low income, physical handicaps and length of travel time to Missoula limit access to Missoula's health care services. The need for a stable base of services within the community is growing, the report said.

The report includes a number of findings that surprised many of the participants. The incidence of teen pregnancy here is higher than the county average. Seventeen percent of all Seeley Lake births between 1990 and 1994 were to teen mothers. Nineteen percent of all births were to single mothers. Community meetings identified pre-natal care, well child care and parenting as prominent community health needs.

Adult education was a focus of discussion during the assessment process.

1990 census data indicated that 16% of the adult population age 25 and older did not have a high school diploma. Health care providers, especially, would like to see more adult learning opportunities in the community, everything from first aid and CPR classes to GED and parenting classes. Assessment participants want a predictable GED program in the community, Moon said. "A few health providers who participated talked about the importance of education for their clientele," she said.

Other areas of need identified in the survey include opportunities for indoor fitness activities. "Long winters with difficult weather conditions limit outdoor fitness activities for the young, old and physically impaired," the report states. The survey indicated that 60% of respondents would use indoor fitness programs or recreational facilities if they were available.

Regarding income and employment, the survey found that in 1990 28% of the adult population held full-time, year-round employment. Forty-four percent of the adult population was unemployed or not in the workforce. In 1996, 20% of survey respondents had no wage earner in the household.
1990 census data indicates that children comprise 31% of the local population. Senior citizens make up 11% of the population. These population were perceived as "most needy" during the recent assessment.

The community health care survey was "more akin to a public meeting" than a traditional survey, Moon explained. Two hundred people participated. Half of the participatns had no children in their households. Of these, most were people in their forties and fifties.

The report also identifies a long list of local health care providers. Because many of the providers do only minimal advertising, or none at all, development of reliable, accessible community health information was cited as a priority need. Moon is currently compiling a directory of all health care services available at Seeley Lake.

Health care providers include:
Seeley Swan Medical Center, Seeley Lake Pharmacy, Montana Sports Medicine & Family Practice, Seeley Swan Physical Therapy, Rapp Chiropractic, Seeley Lake Dental Clinic, Seeley Lake Daycare & Pre-School, Holy Cross Pre-School, Seeley Lake Fire Department & QRU, Lifeflight, Alcoholics Anonymous, Diabestes Support Group, and law enforcement personnel.
Health care outreach programs from Missoula include a psychotherapist (Monica Rekiel-Western Montana Mental Health), Hospice and Partners in Home Health, Crime Victims Advocate & Family Violence Council, Missoula County Health Department-Public Health Visiting Nurse, Turning Point Substance Abuse Educator, Missoula County Health Department WIC program and Headstart (Homestart).

Schools and churches assist with mental health, counseling and programs such as special education, speech therapy and hearing checkups.

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