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North Platte leaders heard familiar problems described Wednesday in Great Plains Health’s third community health assessment — with a plea to pool efforts to make things better.

The federally required assessment, which updates earlier ones from 2013 and 2016, ranked greater access to mental and behavioral health care atop a list of five “key priorities” for the 2020-22 period.

Additional health “prevention education” efforts were listed second, followed by “increased access to safe and affordable housing,” greater access to medical and dental care and continued efforts to “recruit and retain quality professionals.”

GPH officials pointed to Lincoln County’s ranking near the bottom of Nebraska counties in several health measurements in a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study.

But city and county leaders have only “begun down a path of collaboration” that needs to accelerate for residents to live healthier and longer lives, said Chief Development Officer Fiona Libsack.

“Having the community data is great, but it’s not enough to make change,” she told her audience of about 20. Leaders need “to choose policies and programs that work in real life.”

The West Central District Health Department joined forces with GPH in preparing the latest health assessment, she said. Each faces similar but separate federal assessment mandates.

North Platte and Lincoln County have made several important strides since 2016, Libsack said. such as improved access to diabetes education, the arrival of an adolescent psychiatrist and more school services for homeless students.

The Johnson Foundation study, however, reiterated a long list of health problems, living conditions and shortages in health care services facing Lincoln County and rural areas.

Lincoln County ranked 71st in “length of life” and 70th in “quality of life” out of 79 Nebraska counties with sufficient recent health-related statistics to measure. Both contributed to the county’s No. 76 rank in “health outcomes.”

Libsack said deaths in the county from cancer, heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases tend to outpace statewide averages.

Worrisome rates of drug use and suicide, meanwhile, are coupled with persistent shortages in treatment programs and mental and behavioral health professionals, she said.

Kim Engel, executive director of the 12-county Panhandle Public Health District, described ways that hospitals and community leaders in her region turned from competition to collaboration in tackling their region’s health challenges.

Wednesday’s participants gathered around tables after the main presentation to trade ideas in like manner. Without stronger cooperative efforts, local health outcomes are likely to remain bleak for a long time, Libsack said.

“I don’t want that for the people of Lincoln County, and I know you all feel the same way,” she said.

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