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These are the biggest health needs in the Missouri Ozarks, experts say

CHNA photo
Michele Skalicky
Springfield-Greene County Health Department director Katie Towns speaks at an event in Springfield to release details of the Community Health Needs Assessment

The Community Health Needs Assessment identified three health priorities for the next three years.

The top three healthcare needs that will be addressed in Greene, Christian and Webster Counties over the next three years are:

  • Diabetes
  • Mental health and substance abuse
  • Recovery

Those priorities are the result of the 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) released by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department on Thursday. The IRS and Affordable Care Act require hospitals to complete the assessments.

CHNAs are created using health care, public health and community input data to assess the health issues in the southwest Missouri region, according to the health department.

The Springfield Community Healthy Living Alliance identified the top three health priorities after studying community input from surveys and focus groups, an assessment of the feasibility to address an issue and the readiness of the community to address an issue, said Katie Towns, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

She said healthcare and public health officials came together to create the CHNA, which is designed to have a lasting impact.

"It is a tool that we all use to create plans to improve the overall health of our communities and then secure the necessary resources to carry out those plans," said Towns.


Towns said diabetes is more prevalent in our area than in the rest of Missouri and in the U.S. and is becoming more common.

Since the last assessment in 2019, she said the rate of diabetes in Greene, Christian and Webster Counties has risen by 30 percent.

Brandi Bowers, with the MSU Care Clinic, which offers free medical care for adults who are uninsured and are living at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, sees the impact of diabetes firsthand.

She said more than one in four of the people they treat have been diagnosed with diabetes.

She told the story of a women who came in for care whose diabetes wasn't being managed. The patient was struggling to find work, had no access to healthy food and couldn't afford insulin. The MSU Care Clinic provided her with insulin and medication, blood sugar testing strips and more. Within six months, Bowers said the patient's labs were "much improved," and she had gained part-time employment. She eventually went to work full time and secured stable housing.

Substance use and recovery

Tressa Moyle, with the CoxHealth Center for Addictions, said, in the last four years, the number of patients the center treats has quadrupled. The majority of people they treat is addicted to opioids but they also see people with alcohol and marijuana use disorders, and they‘re seeing a return of meth in the region.

Jeff Hannah recounted his struggle with addiction, which began with alcohol in high school and eventually moved to opioids. He pointed to a 48-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer on a desk at the Springfield Art Museum. He said at one point he was so desperate for alcohol, he drank an entire bottle of hand sanitizer. He fell and almost lost his eye.

Hannah lost his career as a nurse, his marriage broke up because of his substance use disorder, he lost his home and he said he almost lost his life.

A year ago, he went to the CoxHealth Center for Addictions and that's when he was able to get his life back on track.

"Treatment does work when you're ready," said Hannah.

Mental health

Towns said a significant number of people in the community are experiencing or will experience mental health issues. There’s been a 30 percent increase in suicides since the last assessment, according to Towns.

She said one of the first things they want to address is mental health stigma so more people will seek care.

Ten-year-old Cecilia Greek talked about being helped by Burrell counselors after she was bullied from the age of five at school because of a muscle disorder.

"Kids need to talk to their parents about how they feel," she said. "Never be afraid to ask for help. They will understand and get the help you need. It's important to talk to your kids."

Community health care plans will be created to address the health priorities identified in the CHNA.

The 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment and subsequent community health care plans resulted in the Tobacco 21 ordinance being passed by Springfield City Council, which raised the legal age to purchase tobacco in Greene County to 21.

Towns said, since that ordinance was approved, 20 percent fewer Greene County students reported using vaping products compared to 2018. And she said the rate of asthma diagnoses is down 30 percent since 2019.

Burrell Behavioral Health opened its crisis center in 2020, which has served more than 3000 people so far who needed emergency mental health and substance abuse services.