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Community Study Looks at Amador County’s Needs

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By Raheem Hosseini

Five years after a comprehensive community needs assessment was released by Voices for Families – an Amador County alliance between local agencies, nonprofits and community groups – an updated assessment has been released, outlining the various challenges currently facing the community and providing various grant-seeking organizations with a blueprint to secure funding to address them.

The massive undertaking addressed everything from personal health issues to demographics, education, economy, crime, child development and more, only the second of its kind in Amador County in the last two decades.

“It´s quite an achievement,” said county Nursing Director Angel LeSage, who participated in both the original assessment and this year´s follow-up. “There had been nothing like this done for the county (before 2000).”

Back then the study made a big splash, utilizing focus groups and community forums to provide detailed insight into the various challenges the community was and is still facing, LeSage said. The 2005 update is slightly less comprehensive, due to a lack of funding and resources, but the people behind it felt it was important enough to forge ahead.

“That committee (Voices for Families) kind of disbanded, but we got together just to do another assessment,” said Cathy Bourland, program director of childcare resources for the Human Resource Council. “There was money the first time, but there wasn´t money the second time.”

At least there was comparatively very little money, with the joint funding provided by the Center for Civic Partnerships, the California Medi-Cal Services Program and Proposition 10 not available this time around. So what inspired this veritable labor of love?

“That first needs assessment was so well-used to leverage funding,” said Bourland, with community organizations and non-profits using the information provided in the assessment to write grants and leverage money for various community projects.

“The information that is available can be really valuable for a lot of our grantees,” added First 5 Executive Director Nina Machado, whose organization participated in both assessments.

As for what sticks out in the 2005 assessment, both Machado and LeSage point to a number of features.

“Our growth is pretty staggering for the county. … And there are still areas where we have significant gaps,” Machado said, pointing to health and child care shortages and domestic violence issues in particular.

LeSage said the county´s suicide rate has consistently outpaced the state level at a frightening clip. The county doesn´t offer a lot of affordable care for people dealing with mental health issues, with the county´s mental health department acting more as a safety net for the uninsured and low income.

The report backs that claim, stating that “the region´s high suicide rates are linked to the lack of mental health services in the Sierra Nevada which, in turn, are linked to the difficulty of serving small, dispersed populations.” The county brings in a psychiatrist from Concord twice a week and one from Sacramento once a week to service Medi-Cal recipients, with intake appointments taking up to a month for adults and up to two months for children. Privately insured individuals get referred to Stockton or Sacramento for treatment.

Machado said she recently presented the assessment to area dentists, since the report states that Amador has “the dubious designation of being earmarked by the state as an ‘Under-served Community´ for dental care” because of the small number Denti-Cal providers. “Families must travel an average of 50 miles into surrounding counties for both preventative and restorative care,” the assessment states, with children having to travel three hours to Atwater if they require sedation.

The county has similar outsourcing issues regarding oncology services for cancer patients, said Machado, with cancer deaths in Amador County outpacing the state average between 2000 and 2002.

“With this county getting larger, these gaps are going to get bigger,” said Machado, who also serves as a board member for the Support Transportation And Resource Services program.

As such, all three women hope the information provided in the assessment will help groups secure funding to more effectively target certain needs in the community.

“It´s really a community resource and we hope the community can use it,” said Bourland, who added that people should contact First 5 at 257-1092 if they want to obtain a copy. “I would hope at some point we could do another huge one with focus groups.”

Among some of the other findings of the 2005 study were:

• The Hispanic population is growing fast, but health, education and child care services for minority groups are not sufficient.

• The senior population is growing fast, but services for seniors are not sufficient.

• Both adult and youth smoking prevalence is higher than statewide.

• Drug-related arrests increased in the past few years.

• The demand for child care well exceeds the supply and infant care (ages 0-3) remains the hardest to find.

• Ten percent of residents live below the federal poverty level, 14.2 percent of which are children under five.

Reprinted with permission from The Ledger Dispatch.