Leaders of the Kaweah Delta Health Care District (KDHCD) want better feedback from the people they serve and more of it, and they’ve formed a small army of advocates to help them.
In the wake of the failure of Measure H–a $327 million bond initiative intended to fund expansion of Kaweah Delta Medical Center–those responsible for the future of KDHCD decided they had to find a better way to get their message out to voters.
“Measure H, we blew it,” said KDHCD CEO Gary Herbst. “We did a poor job of communicating with the community.”
The outcome of that failure is a new effort to establish a two-way flow of information between the District’s administrators and board members, and those who turn to KDHCD for care. Rather than relying on advertising alone, the administration decided to turn to the community’s natural leaders, placing them in handful of advisory committees and communication groups.
This month, for the first time, all of the nearly 300 volunteers working to get the word out came together in one place.
“This is the absolute outcome of (Measure H’s failure),” Herbst said of the massive gathering in the cafeteria at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts West Coast Distribution Center in Visalia’s Industrial Park.
The renewed effort to get the message out is a two-pronged approach. The first part of the push is a series of committees directed toward creating a vision for the growth of KDHCD, with names like the Hospital of the Future, Healthcare for Today and Tomorrow and the more mundane Community Relations Committee.
With dozens of members with wide-ranging backgrounds on the committees, those in charge at KDHCD hope to discover approaches to healthcare that those in the industry have never before considered. The prime task of the committees, KDHCD Director of Community Engagement Deborah Volosin said, is to discover what changes to operations, practices, services and facilities those who live in the district would like to see.
“Anytime you have a diverse group with a common goal, you’re going to see great changes,” she said. “The goal is to better educate the community and for Kaweah Delta to listen and make the hospital better for the community.”
Getting the Word Out
The second part of the effort involves dozens of so-called ambassadors who have agreed to get the word out about what KDHCD does and what it would like to do in the years to come.
“They commit to be educated and then share that information into their social spheres,” Volosin said.
Sandy Blankenship, director of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, is one of those who’s agreed to spread the word about KDHCD as a community stakeholder. So far, Blankenship has been briefed on topics including the national opioid crisis, the district’s demographics, the future of Kaweah Delta Medical Center’s emergency department and the efforts at KDMC to meet the state’s updated seismic standards.
“They teach you things that are going on at Kaweah Delta so you can answer questions,” Blankenship said. “It’s so we can say, ‘I know about that!’ when someone is talking about the hospital. I’ve learned a lot.”
The district is already seeing results from its efforts to change how it interacts with those it serves, Volosin said. She points to KDHCD’s increased presence on “non-traditional media” outlets such as Facebook and Twitter as a result of the input of the Community Relations Committee.
“They wanted more social media outreach,” she said. “It’s important because there’s a generation that’s so media savvy.”
Cooperative Health Care
Lloyd Hicks, who shares chairmanship of the Healthcare for Today and Tomorrow Committee, says the trend they’d like to see the district follow is more cooperation with other community institutions, such as school districts and local governments.
Specifically, Hicks’ committee thinks those who rely on Kaweah Delta would benefit from increased attention to mental healthcare.
“There’s a shortage of everything in mental health,” he said. “The thing we’re mainly lacking is facilities, especial for juveniles.”
Increasing treatment options for those with mental illness would benefit the district in other ways, like reducing patient load in the emergency department.
“A lot of ER traffic is mental health and substance abuse,” he said.
What’s needed, Hicks said, are additional short-term treatment facilities, mental health treatment programs and, of course, the personnel to staff them. There are currently untapped sources of revenue available to the county that could help, he said, and a cooperative effort could benefit both the county and the KDHCD.
“There are funding issues on all of these needs,” Hicks said. “Working with Tulare County, they can save everybody money in the long run.”
Hicks’ committee is also keen to see the district work with schools to educate students about avoidable diseases such as diabetes that are rampant in the area. Keeping patients they serve healthy to avoid hospitalization is a new direction healthcare districts such as KDHCD are being forced, he said.
“The goal now is to keep people healthy up front,” Hicks said.
Volunteers like Hicks and Blankenship provide a critical input for the district, says Nevin House, Secretary-Treasurer of the KDHCD Board of Directors, adding “fresh eyes” in the effort for better quality healthcare.
“Sometimes the people working at the hospital are too close to it,” House said. “Sometimes I see people in administration, and their eyes light up. They say, ‘We never thought of that.’”