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North Country Health Compass Web-based tool launched


WATERTOWN — In the midst of north country hospitals and affiliated organizations working through newly formed partnerships and streamlined operations exists a data system intended to aid their efforts and give local residents and providers the tools they need to create healthier communities.

That was the message Friday at Jefferson Community College during the public launch of the North Country Health Compass, a customized Web-based quality-of-life and environmental information system. The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization received a $225,000 grant from the state Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health to develop the online tool last year. Before the site’s launch, FDRHPO facilitated a regional community health assessment and community improvement plan, and North Country Health Compass will use those to develop and implement a plan to get patients more engaged in their health care.

“The North Country Health Compass website is the first of its kind in New York state,” said Ian D. Grant, FDRHPO’s rural health program manager and Health Compass administrator. “Our goal is to really move the needle on these health outcomes.”

At the top of the website there is a dashboard of indicators, with gauges for how the region fares on items such as children with health insurance, diabetes death rate and families in poverty. Each indicator contains detailed information and statistics.

“All of this is free, and accessible 24/7,” he said. “But there’s more; any agency, organization, department or hospital can let us know what you’re interested in and we can develop your own mini-dashboard. As it changes on the core site, it’ll update on your site as well.”

The website is maintained locally by Mr. Grant, but it was developed in partnership with Health Communities Institute in California.

In a recorded video message, state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said the development of North Country Health Compass puts the north country “on the map.”

“The North Country Health Compass is a great example of what can be achieved when everyone is involved,” Dr. Shah said in the video. “We can bring health care reform to the local level.”

He said regional planning, through efforts such as those being done by the Health Compass’s hospital, public health, insurance provider and medical provider community partners, will be a key element in achieving the triple aim: improving patient experience, outcomes and cost.

The Health Compass focuses on improving chronic diseases, maternal and child health and behavioral health in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, and aligns with the state’s Prevention Agenda and components of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Stephen A. Jennings, co-chairman of the Health Compass partners and Jefferson County Public Health Service health planner and spokesman, said regional data from multiple sources show there is a significant amount of work to be done in the north country. But with everyone working together, change will happen.

“Red is us, and red is bad,” he said, as he showed specific regional health statistics, compared with the state as a whole. “We’re too obese — adults and children. We have too many people diagnosed with diabetes. Our colorectal screening is not where it should be, and we have too many people having heart attacks.”

Now that the Health Compass has helped identify the issues, partners will use regional assets, such as school-based health centers and peer groups; and work to improve barriers such as low health literacy and a lack of collaboration on services for mental health and substance abuse, in order to meet several objectives. Mr. Jennings, also a Watertown City Councilman, said objectives include promoting cancer services programs, advocating against tobacco marketing to youth and young adults, encouraging better use of local diabetes prevention programs, promoting a school-based dental sealant health program and integrating behavioral health into primary care.

An early implementation to the local movement has already begun, as partners have applied for a federal grant to establish a North Country Diabetes Prevention and Reduction Network.

Friday’s celebration included remarks from Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, president of the New York Academy of Medicine, and Dr. Thomas Dennison, professor at Upstate Medical University, Syracuse. Both featured speakers lauded efforts of all partners to be proactive about creating a healthier and safer environment in the area.

“Local collaborations are our new paradigm,” Dr. Dennison said. “You have every tool available to really make a difference in the north country, and I applaud you for the work you have done.”

Dr. Boufford said she was delighted to be invited to the event, which was her first time being “this far north” in the state.

“You’re the first ones to really pull together and do this,” she said. Health care “belongs to everybody, and everybody can have an impact.”

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