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Caroline County hosts public health summit

Times Record - 12/13/2017

DENTON - Caroline County is making strides in increasing health care access for its residents, and plans are in the works to continue that progress, it was reported at the county's annual health care summit, Tuesday, Dec. 5, at the Health and Public Service building in Denton.

The summit, now in its fifth year, is a chance to publicly look at where Caroline County ranks among the state in certain health indicators, what was done over the past year to address areas of concern and what is coming to further address those areas, by bringing together the county government and partnering agencies.

This year's presentation began with a brief overview by Caroline County Health Officer Scott LeRoy.

"Benjamin Franklin said, ?An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,'" LeRoy said.

Statistics show Caroline County consistently ranks near the bottom among Maryland jurisdictions in the reported number of residents exhibiting behaviors that contribute to poor health, like tobacco use, obesity, excessive alcohol use and physical inactivity.

The county - the only one in Maryland without an emergency department - ranks last among all 24 jurisdictions in clinical care factors, including access to primary care physicians, dental care and mental health care.

But there was good news too, as representatives of Shore Regional Health, Choptank Community Health System and the Caroline Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council spoke about what they've done over the past year and what they are working on for the future.

Kathleen McGrath, regional director of outreach and business development for Shore Regional Health, said one of the system's major recent focuses has been to improve the coordination of continued care for patients after they leave the hospital.

The opening of the new ChoiceOne Urgent Care facility in Denton, more educational and support groups, a five-year grant from the health system to Caroline County to update its ambulance fleet and the future opening of a new medical pavilion in Denton are all contributing to that goal in Caroline County, McGrath said.

"The goal is to reduce unnecessary emergency department visits, better address behavioral health and improve access and transportation," McGrath said.

To address the opioid abuse epidemic, McGrath said, Shore Regional Health created a Regional Opioid Task Force in June, to coordinate medical response on the Mid-Shore.

Susan Johnson, vice president of quality and population health for Choptank Community Health System, said Choptank also has a new medical building in the works.

The health care system plans to replace its aging Denton medical facility with a new, much larger one, to be built on Fifth Avenue, right behind PNC Bank.

The new facility, on target for opening in June 2019, will offer 17,000 square feet of office space - 10 times the size of the current facility - and expand adult and pediatric medical services, while adding behavioral health services and pediatric dentistry.

Johnson said Choptank is also focused on "population health," by building partnerships with other agencies to create a more cohesive health care approach for patients. For instance, Johnson said, blood pressure screenings are being done on dental patients, as high blood pressure is often an early indicator of pre-diabetes.

Bryan Ebling, director of the Caroline County Department of Emergency Services, and Katie Dilley, deputy director of Mid Shore Behavioral Health, spoke about the Local Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council's efforts to address the opioid abuse epidemic in Caroline County.

Ebling said the LDAAC is the true "boots on the ground" in the county in the fight against the epidemic.

In 2014, Ebling said, Caroline County residents made 55 visits to emergency departments for opioid poisoning. By 2016, that number had risen to 205 visits, and as of Nov. 30, this year is on track to match or exceed last year's total.

Deaths confirmed to be caused by opioid overdose have also risen in that time frame, Ebling said. There were seven such deaths in 2014, and nine in 2016.

Also increasing are the number of infants born already exposed to substances. Those are tracked by fiscal year, rather than calendar year. Ebling said there were 27 substance-exposed infants born to county residents in FY16, and 28 born in FY17. So far, the current fiscal year is also on track to match those numbers, he said.

"Those are significant numbers in Caroline because there's such a small population," Ebling said.

Dilley said the LDAAC was revitalized in 2015 in response to the opioid abuse epidemic, and has been supported by Mid Shore Behavioral Health since early 2016. The LDAAC updated its strategic plan and named Caroline County Warden Ruth Coulbourne as chairperson.

In the coming year, Dilley said, the LDAAC plans to reduce underage alcohol availability and reduce opioid availability and, with it, deaths.

Among the strategies to reduce deaths is to increase the number of people trained to use naloxone, also known as narcan, an opioid overdose reversal medication. Training has been offered already to school staff, library staff, the county commissioners, Caroline County sheriff's deputies and town police officers.

Scheduled drug take-back days and a permanent medical drop-off box at the sheriff's office give people an avenue to safely dispose of unneeded prescription medication, Ebling said.

Among the educational efforts over the past year was a screening of "Chasing the Dragon," a documentary about opioid abuse, at all eight Caroline County volunteer fire companies, Dilley said, and motivational speeches by recovering addict Chris Herren at both county high schools.

Recently going live is a new texting service that offers resources and support to addicts and supporters, launched by I Wish I Knew - MidShore. Anyone can text IWIK to 71441 for help, either in the form of texting, or, if preferred, a phone call from a local provider.

Dilley said the LDAAC is also working on bringing a mobile treatment service based in Pennsylvania to the area.

Among the LDAAC's coming efforts are bringing Herren back next year to speak at both county middle schools; bolstering the Fed Up Rally, held earlier this year, to help it reach more people; support opioid-specific curriculum changes in county schools; increasing access to treatment; and increasing the number of peer support specialists.

"We have a lot to do," Dilley said.

Summing up the evening, Caroline County Commission Vice President Larry Porter said the county has already come a long way in terms of health care access, pushed by the cooperation of Shore Regional Health and Choptank Community Health.

Porter said he was looking forward to seeing both systems' new medical facilities being built in Denton.

"It's incredible to increase access for people in the county," Porter said.


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