Caring council, UW taking action on community survey targets

Friday, October 15, 2004

A hypothetical local senior citizen has untreated diabetes and some teeth that need dental attention. She might not go to the doctor, and especially not to the dentist, because she can't afford to pay the bill or the high deductible her insurance company imposes.

Or it could be that she can't get to the doctor easily -- she has no car and isn't aware that transportation is available.

What the Community Caring Council and the United Way of Southeast Missouri have discovered through their three-year community assessment partnership plan is that the major problems the community faces -- transportation, affordable medical care, drug and alcohol abuse, and family issues -- are intertwined.

At a Thursday morning meeting the council and the United Way said they are now ready to consolidate community efforts to make them more efficient and make people more aware.

Jeff Brune, director of the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority, said the transit office is already implementing some of the goals.

Although $728,934 is coming into the county for operating funds "transportation is still our No. 1 problem," Brune said. "That screams for the need for coordination."

Surveys and other information-gathering is already underway, Brune said, to create a system that will put all transportation services under one agency and model it after the system working now in Paducah, Ky., a city similar in size to Cape Girardeau.

"Paducah combined its resources and services and the number of people riding just went through the roof," Brune said.

Education and awareness are also goals of the committee working on affordable health care. Judy Aslin of Southeast Missouri Hospital said that low-income and other underserved people need especially to be reached and informed.

Many low-income and uninsured people are unaware of Cross Trails Clinic, which now has a dentist in its Cape Girardeau clinic and offers a sliding scale for people who have trouble meeting their deductible.

Interdependent on each other also are affordable medical care and greater awareness of mental health treatment. Tim Gould, president of New Visions, said that depression, stress and anxiety can be the result and the cause of illness. What's needed most, Gould said, is to rid the public of the stigma attached to mental illness.

And alcohol and drug abuse are often linked with mental health, said Marla Mills of the United Way. Along with educating the public about the effects of substance abuse and the awareness of treatment, Mills said that access is another dimension that must be addressed.

Families who need help with parenting skills, violence, housing issues and other quality of life issues aren't reached, said Denise Stewart of the area Girl Scouts council.

"We have programs people don't come to, probably because they don't have transportation," she said. "We want to create awareness of our program."

Stewart mentioned Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ) as one possible community resource that can serve as a clearinghouse for people who have various family needs. Having one agency fielding requests will make it easier to reach more people, she said.

"We want children to be successful," she said. "We want families to be self-sufficient. It's not too much to ask."

The Community Caring Council is the umbrella organization coordinating all the agencies dealing with the four community needs.

"We've been talking about coordination for a long time," United Way director Nancy Jernigan said. "It's time now to take the next step."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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