HHHS moves forward to meet needs

Action teams tout successes, look for more service providers.

The first step to meeting unmet community needs can be as simple as Bainbridge being less insular.

So say members of the city’s Health, Housing and Human Services Council, charged with enhancing the island’s array of social services.

“One piece we’re very proud of is we brought in people from outside the community, people on and off the island who were really needed to come up with solutions,” said Elaine VonRosenstiel, co-chair of the HHHS steering committee. “It sent a signal to off-island agencies that they are welcome – they haven’t always gotten that message – to work with a broader community to solve problems.”

Follow last year’s “Needs Assessment” survey, the organization formed action teams to address issues including affordable housing; medical and dental care; childcare for children with special needs; senior day services and assisted living; and youth drug and alcohol abuse.

Where many cities have a human services department, Bainbridge has a partnership with the private, nonprofit HHHS. The group functions independently, but is linked to the city through its work plan and role as official advisor to the city for the Human Services Element of the Comprehensive Plan.

Representatives from each of the five action teams were on hand at an evening reception in the Bainbridge Commons September 14, to present their findings and steps going forward to interested providers and agencies.

Highlights included the new Peninsula Community Health Services clinic – which charges for primary care on a sliding scale – that opened at the Bainbridge Commons in August, and a medical and dental referral system that may start this winter.

HHHS will provide input on city policy and funding decisions, and may distribute funds to agencies.

“The key to success is involvement by a number of different parties. I think this process is still evolving,” HHHS Executive Director Jan Lambert said.

Medical/Dental: Willa Fisher, MD, co-chair of the HHHS steering committee, had been looking for a way to get a PCHS clinic on the island.

“PCHS would not have been looking, but saw that the community welcomed them and had space,” Fisher said. “One thing I hoped would come out of the (HHHS) process is that it would bring off-island resources into Bainbridge Island.”

There is still work including mental health care access and medication for chronic illnesses, she said. As for dental care, many island dentists already take some low-income patients, and could see more patients in schedule gaps in their schedule, committee co-chair Fred Grimm, DDS, says.

With Helpline agreeing to take on the role of “distributing the load” among offices through a dental referral system, low-income patients can be served.

“All island dentists have discussed the problem and endorsed (taking low-income patients),” Grimm said. “We had an island-wide meeting and agreed this is a good way to distribute patients.

“It’s basically economically better than opening an office and funding it with money that’s not there anyway.”

Aging support: The senior day services and affordable assisted living action team is concentrating on keeping aging islanders in their own home – their preference, the HHHS study found.

“People prefer to ‘age in place,’” said Jeanette Franks, chair of the Kitsap County Advisory Council on Aging and Long-Term Care. “With enough support services, someone with Alzheimer’s or congestive heart (troubles) can stay home... Moving to a new (assisted living) environment can be hard.”

The team includes seven off-island support provider agencies. The group will continue to share information and meet quarterly as the Aging Support Network.

Childcare: This team found that most area child care providers served children with a variety of special needs.

“However, there is still a group of children whose needs are not being met,” said Anna Garrity, co-chair of the action team and executive director for the Bainbridge Island Child Care Center.

Children who need increased care may require a 1:1 provider to child environment, specially trained staff or equipment to provide for a child’s care and safety and parents may or may not be able to adjust their employment to cover their child’s care needs.

Garrity hopes to recruit more providers to the team and look at other models of care and funding.

Affordable housing: To avoid rehashing good work, the affordable housing team endorsed the recommendations presented by the Mayor’s 2004 Affordable Housing Task Force Report.

Said action team member Dana Quitslund of future hopes, “We want to see if we can make a quantum leap forward in addressing housing that supports a more diverse community... Part of our role in the next steps is to get more key players together for a more unified vision.”

Youth drug and alcohol: The Youth Drug and Alcohol Abuse action team has the advantage of also being the 10-month-old “Just Know” Coalition of Youth and Parents, but the team has the tough task of trying to influence behavior.

Brent Peterson, committee co-chair and principal of Bainbridge High School, says risky behavior by youths has always been an issue in his 20-plus years on the island.

Immediate goals are “keeping the dialog going” about risky teen behavior and helping youths create more “positive assets” – a youth’s connections to the community and adults.

“Research supports the concept that if young people have a higher level of positive assets in life, the likelihood of engaging in risky behavior is diminished,” Peterson said.

Committee members are looking at ideas including formation of a youth advisory committee to the city and access to youth services.

Early signs from the group’s work over the past 10 months “feel good” Peterson said, “(but) recent activities (teen car accidents) remind us this is a huge ongoing effort.

“It will take sustained efforts of a significant portion of our community over a significant period of time before we could hope to see measurable results.”

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