City Leaders, Health Business Officials Discuss Saline Health Care Facilities

 02/15/2016 - 01:00

A survey by St. Joseph Mercy Health system found that 33 percent of Salinians are overweight and another 31 percent are obese. The study also found that 25 percent of Salinians are binge drinkers as opposed to a countywide average of 15 percent.

In a Wednesday morning forum at City Hall, twenty civic and health leaders gathered to discuss the state of health and wellness in the community, to highlight trends and discuss how to address unmet needs. The health statistics cited were not the reason for calling the meeting, but they support taking a closer look at health and wellness in the city of Saline.

Mayor Brian Marl organized the forum in response to the departure of the community hospital and emergency room services in the last few years. Many attendees lamented the loss, but the main focus of the meeting was on what we do have and where we go from here.

At the table were eight City of Saline leaders, three executives from Saint Joseph Mercy Health System and leaders of other health and welfare related businesses. A few dozen citizens attended the discussion.

Most of the meeting consisted of each health leader talking about the services they currently provide. City leaders spoke of apparent needs. For instance Jack Ceo, former Deputy Police Chief and current member of City Council, lamented the loss regional mental health facilities.

 “As a police officer I saw a lot of those former mental health care consumers who have been pushed out in the street are now are now being housed in jails,” Ceo said.”

Smita Nagpal of Still Waters Counseling agreed with Ceo. She said mental health cuts by state and federal government had made her job harder.

“We feel like sometimes we are the first responders and we are the only responders even in very severe situations where it should not be the case,” Nagpal said.

One way the community has tried to address mental health needs is the Saline Alive program of which Nagpal is the chair. Saline Alive holds regular informative public meetings and is intended to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

She is also co-chair of the Saline Community Substance Abuse Coalition that was initially formed to deal with increasing deaths from heroin overdose, but has focused more broadly on substance abuse and addiction in youths.

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Several other leaders spoke of health care needs among the senior population, a population that is expected to increase proportionally in the next few decades.

 Denise Rabidoux, president and CEO of Evangelical Homes of Michigan spoke of how the loss of Saline’s hospital has become a blessing for her organization. By purchasing the hospital space they now have a 250,000 square foot facility to meet the needs of their elderly clients.

Evangelical Homes, a faith-based organization, also provides millions of dollars in charitable care, charitable transportation for the elderly and a Safe at Home program. They continue to look for new ways to help. For example they are working on a web-based portal to help people deal with loneliness and isolation.   

Great Lakes Caring is another elder care group, but they focus on homebound patients. They can provide home care, palliative care and hospice services Cheryl Dirksen said.

Roger Simpson, VP for Washtenaw County of Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA), spoke of new programs they are developing partly to meet the needs of the elderly. One service they have initiated in Saline is a Paramedic First Response Unit, housed at the Saline Fire Department.

The paramedic responders are able to get to the scene of medical emergencies more quickly and provide appropriate initial procedures.

More to the point of helping seniors, they are experimenting with a Community Paramedic Program in Saline. This program is designed to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits.

A paramedic with special training in assessment and treatment of patients, in consultation with doctors at the hospital, determines whether a patient really needs to go to the ER. An unnecessary ambulance ride and ER admission may cost about $3,500, Simpson said. The program saves health care dollars and unnecessary trauma to patients.

Rabidoux said that this program by HVA has already had a significant impact. Readmission of Evangelical Home patients to the hospital is now well below the national average.

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Michelle Szczypka, Michael Miller and David Brooks represented Saint Joseph Mercy Health CAre System.

David Brooks, Saint Joseph Mercy President in Ann Arbor, noted that it might seem antithetical to spend money to keep people out of your service, but that is the direction of health care reform.

“We are not intending to fill out beds now,” said Michelle Szczypka, also of Saint Joseph Mercy. “We really want to keep people at the right level of service at the right place at the right time.”

Rina Chemin spoke of programs for the elderly at the Saline Senior Center. Carla Scruggs, director of Saline Parks and Recreation spoke of the programs available for people of all ages at the Rec Center and in Saline parks.

None of the speakers directly addressed the health issues at the head of this article. No programs for dealing with obesity were discussed. Saline is similar to the rest of the county in this category.

It was a bit of a shock for attendees to learn that Saline has a higher percentage of binge drinkers than other communities in the county. This may need to be addressed in a future forum.

Bob Conradi's picture
Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Reach him at bobcphotography@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.