Survey helps formulate area health initiatives

Aubreanna Miller, News Editor

The Nebraska Rural Health Network is working to solve community health issues in the Northeast Nebraska area by conducting a survey as a part of their Community Health Needs Assessment.

The survey, which will be open through February, includes 11 questions such as “What was the last major health issue you or your family experienced?” and “What would make your neighborhood a healthier place for you or your family?”

These open-ended questions are designed to gather input and give stakeholders in the area insight into the health problems that people in the surrounding communities face every day, according to Health Director of the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department Julie Rother.

Wayne State College professor Dr. Barbara Engebretsen, urges college students to participate in this survey. The NNPHD sees the health of this large demographic as significant in the proceedings of the community as a whole.

“College students are here around nine months out of the year,” Engebretsen said. “They bring a new added perspective and make sure that all voices are heard around the table.”

Anyone who fills out the survey has the option to put their name into a drawing for $50. That money can be used on anything health-related. Prizes in the past have gone to paying for a pool membership and new tennis shoes.

The results from the survey will go directly into a Community Health Improvement Plan, which will most likely come out this summer, Rother said.

This plan acts as a result of the whole Community Health Needs Assessment, which the network conducts every few years. The process, known as MAP, consists of a series of meetings and surveys with citizens, health professionals and community stakeholders to obtain a larger picture regarding the health of our area.

“We have a series of listening sessions where we invite community members to come and share with us a lot of the same things that are in the survey, but having it verbal gives us deeper insight into some of the things that they’re talking about or in identifying,” Rother said.

All these pieces come together to find the answers regarding the biggest health issues of the local area and how the organizations involved can make the best possible decisions to address problems and fill in the gaps.

Those organizations, including Pender Community Hospital, Providence Medical Center, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Winnebago Health Department and the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department, which serves the counties of Cedar, Dixon, Thurston and Wayne, form the Northeast Nebraska Rural Health Network.

The group formed in 2017 out of the need for an assessment and improvement plan. According to Rother, the various institutions saw the benefits of continuing a partnership, leading to the drafting of bylaws and memorandums of agreement to continue the necessary and life-changing work.

“We realized that [we can] really maximize our resources if we’re not out duplicating the same kinds of activities but can learn from each other,” Rother said. “The vision we came up with is by working together, we create a healthier community.”

The network has continued this work through obtaining grants to work on priority issues, pandemic response and needs assessments and planning.

This current assessment gives a priority focus to social determinants of health and health disparities. Specifically, the network wants to highlight aspects such as access to an environment that makes physical activity attainable, healthy foods and safe and affordable housing.

“Our health isn’t just dependent upon whether or not we can get to the doctor,” Rother said. “A good portion is dependent upon our environment around us. When people do not have access to some of those things, that is when we run into health disparities, where people are just not able to achieve the maximum health that they could if they were to have optimal living environments.”

The survey can be found on the NNPHD website or at