Strategies in Petaluma draw attention of state health department
By Jeff Quackenbush, Business Journal Staff Reporter

The Petaluma Health Care District has drawn the attention and praise of a top California health official for its community programs.
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“This is a model for other communities,” said California Department of Health Care Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Neal Kohatsu, who was impressed with what he saw during a daylong site visit to Petaluma. “They’ve done good work developing their health care system, with quality strategies fostering a healthy community. Great work all around.”

DHCS was particularly impressed with that community’s health model, which includes services and funding administered outside of Petaluma Valley Hospital. They requested to visit Petaluma because they wanted to see the hands-on efforts that health care districts can play in communities, beyond acute care and hospitals.

Dr. Kohatsu said his team will take what they learned from the day and work with other counties state-wide on issues of education and social services, making sure people can find healthcare services available to them.

The visit took DHCS attendees to McDowell Elementary School, Petaluma Community Center, Petaluma Health Center, meeting with childcare specialists, the Petaluma Police Department, PHCD’s CEO Ramona Faith, community outreach representatives and the Heartsafe Community program.

“The overall theme that jumped out at me throughout the day was how the PHCD is the “glue” that fosters business and nonprofit collaboration to tackle health issues in the community. It identifies community health needs through its assessments, feedback, etc. and then brings the right groups to the table to launch initiatives to address issues,” said Melinda Hepp, spokesperson for PHCD.

One of those groups is the Healthy Community Consortium (HC2), which has been collaborating with the community for over 20 years. It has a history of dealing with youth issues and have developed strategies to reduce high rates of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use.

The root of the problem, they found, was easy social and commercial access, low perception of risks and an over concentration of alcohol outlets. While the state average is one alcohol serving establishment for every 558 residents, Petaluma’s rate is 1 for every 279.

Petaluma also historically had a high number of adults, hosting parties with underage drinking, the group found. HC2 worked to institute fines and possible arrest for anyone hosting such a party and since then police responses to such gatherings have been greatly reduced, said Diane Davis, HC2 program coordinator.

“Change takes time. You have to change attitudes and behavior. It takes a while but we’re getting there,” she said.

HC2 also worked to established a free “responsible beverage service” training which is now required every three years for establishments serving alcohol.

The group has also handed out packets to students at the beginning of the school year including a pledge against drugs for them and their parents to sign.

As a sign of their success in teen smoking, in 2008 Petaluma had one of the highest teen smoking rates in the state. In 2013, the number was down by 10 percent. HC2 has also proposed passing an ordinance banning smoking from multi-unit housing, hotels, outdoor dining and business entryways, and banning e-cigarettes in eating and drinking establishments.

PHCD is a public agency committed to improving the health and well-being of Southern Sonoma County. It was formed in 1946. PHCD owns Petaluma Valley Hospital and leases its operation to St. Joseph Health.

In other efforts PHCD is:

  • Working with partners to increase the number of 3 to 4-year olds who attend preschool by expanding facilities, leveraging funds and dedicating local funding.
  • Partnering with mental and behavioral health groups in Sober Circle linking the chronically inebriated homeless to sobriety services and social support programs.
  • Increasing consumption of locally produced fruits and vegetables among Calfresh recipients by providing a $10 matching incentive at Petaluma Farmers Markets.
  • Partnering with Heartsafe Community to increase survival rates from cardiac emergencies through training and AED installations.

HeartSafe Community (HSC)’s goal is to increase survival rates from cardiac emergencies through CPR/AED training, and strategic AED installations in the workplace. The group partners with local police and other entities in the community.

Most recently, Arrow Benefits has volunteered to conduct CPR classes and provide referrals for AED equipment. The first class was Feb. 11. Andrew McNeil, principal at Arrow, will be facilitating classes each quarter, and is spearheading other community health related trainings with St. Joseph’s and Whole Foods. Arrow is also in the process of booking other speakers to present on other health related topics such as eating healthy and cancer prevention.

“The goal is making people more health conscious in general. We discovered the community as a whole is interested in looking at ways to do that,” Mr. McNeil said.

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