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New Ulm Medical Center

NUMC adopts strategies for reducing obesity and substance abuse, improving mental health

New Ulm Medical Center has wrapped up its Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) work with a 2014-2016 action plan that outlines a number of ways to tackle three of Brown County’s most pressing health issues – obesity, substance abuse and mental health problems. The action strategies go beyond NUMC’s core services and involve partnerships with other organizations.

New Ulm Medical Center, part of Allina Health, worked on the federally required CHNA plan for a year and a half with help from public health officials, local schools, park and recreation, other organizations and Wilder Research.

“The plan calls for continuing efforts that are underway to reduce obesity, such as the successful Heart of New Ulm program,” said Carisa Buegler, director, Foundation & Community Engagement for New Ulm Medical Center. “Substance abuse and mental health are some new areas that we will tackle on a larger scale. Our employees will be leading some community education efforts.”

The CHNA & Implementation Plan outlines facts that made the three selected issues rise to the top of the priority list, and ways to address each one. Here is a brief summary:

Obesity goal: Reduce obesity and increase physical activity.

The problem:

  • Obesity rates are rising among adults and children, and obesity can have negative effects on both lifespan and quality of life.
  • 72 percent of adults screened through the Heart of New Ulm project were overweight or obese, as are 24 percent of New Ulm’s female children and 27 percent of male children ages 9-18.

Planned solutions:

  • Partner with the Heart of New Ulm program on expanding access to healthy foods, health screenings, healthy cooking classes and policy improvements. Heart of New Ulm ( has scored major successes in community participation, weight loss and reducing hypertension, cholesterol levels and heart attacks.
  • Create and support worksite and community center programs and motivational talks.
  • Use Health Powered Kids™, an Allina Health program, to expand options for nutritional education and physical activity.
  • Substance abuse goal: Support programs and provide education in the community.

    The problem:

    • Half of the motor vehicle injuries and deaths in Brown County are related to alcohol.
    • 21 percent of Brown County adults are excessive drinkers.
    • 43 percent of ninth graders have used alcohol one or more times in the last year, and 18 percent have used marijuana.

    Planned solutions:

    • Provide education to health care providers, educators and community members on identifying signs of substance abuse and how to discuss these issues with children and adolescents.
    • Support and promote resources for prescription drug drop-off and disposal.

    Mental health goal: Improve access to mental health resources and address stigma.

    The problem:

    • 17 percent of ninth graders reported they had felt sad all or most of the time in the past month.
    • The number of Brown County ninth graders who have tried to kill themselves in the past year is double the statewide average of 3 percent.

    Planned solutions:

    • Partner to host depression screenings at community events, workplaces and schools.
    • Develop and offer community classes on recognizing mental illness symptoms and connecting individuals in crisis with appropriate care.
    • Engage health care providers in public discussions about mental illness, with the goal of decreasing stigma.

    “During the discussions that went into our needs assessment and plan, we heard community members say they wanted us to replicate the strengths of the community-driven Heart of New Ulm program in these other areas,” Buegler said. “We’ve tried to do that, and now we move forward with our annual work plans. They’ll include detailed actions, accountabilities, evaluation measures and timelines.”