LOWVILLE — Community response to an online questionnaire about services for people with mental health, addiction and developmental issues — especially after the new experiences and challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic — is crucial to improving those services in 2021.

That feedback is the cornerstone for the annual update to a county’s “local service plan,” according to Lewis County Community Services Director Patricia Fralick. The plan informs how services progress and respond to needs.

For the second year, Mrs. Fralick has created an anonymous online questionnaire using the Survey Monkey interface to solicit public opinion.

“I got my community input other ways before but I didn’t think it was enough,” Ms. Fralick said. “So last year we tried Survey Monkey for the community and I want to say last year we got 30 or 40 replies.”

This year, with access to the paid version of Survey Monkey, Ms. Fralick and her team have expanded the questionnaire from 10 to 15 questions and will be able to use data analysis tools through the software.

Agencies on both local and state levels provide feedback that helps to inform the questionnaire’s content, tone, and focus, she said.

“It’s something that evolves. You just learn a little bit more and get more resources and continue to fine tune it,” Ms. Fralick said about crafting the questions, “I wanted to be able to drill down without overwhelming people with too many questions. I kept it pretty general across the board with all three services and try to get a sense of what’s going well and if you haven’t had a good experience, I wanted you to acknowledge that. But then I wanted to know where did you not have a good experience.”

In order to ensure people without internet access can have their voices heard, the survey was also sent to school districts and various agencies with the request to share the survey with their “consumers.”

“That could be putting someone in front of a computer so they have access to it. I know Northern Regional Center for Independent Living has printed it out in the past and allowed people to do it through a paper copy,” Ms. Fralick said.

Last year’s responses confirmed what the public services community had long known to be true: the stigma involved with going into counseling or a drug rehab program is one of the strongest barriers between people and the help they need, Ms. Fralick said.

In addition to informing the 2021 plan, this year’s responses will help the department and providers around the county assess the success so far of their 2020 plan with the added stresses involved with the COVID-19 pandemic. That look-back can be a wake-up call for providers.

“People are concerned about the level of care that they think they’re providing,” she said, “This is an opportunity for anonymity through an external source to make them realize, ‘Gosh, this is what’s going on.’”

In a county like Lewis where there is only one agency focused on each area and therefore no competitive push to improve services simply to get more clients, the plan helps Ms. Fralick and her team monitor and balance expectations, performances, needs and requirements.

“Despite everybody having a corner on the market — it’s not like we have a line of people who want to come serve the people of Lewis County — but it’s very important that providers are meeting the needs of the population, and if they’re not, that’s something we’re negotiating and talking about.”

She said it’s “a delicate balance,” but because everyone involved in providing these services got into the work to care for people, those involved “always come together on that” and try to find solutions.

The draft plan will be presented to the community services board on July 7 and the board will vote on it July 14. That gives time before the August deadline to get the plan to the state in case there are changes.

Survey responses are welcome until June 30 at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YFPCF7C.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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