The Missing Links: Putting Placer in Touch with Health

August 7, 2006
Sacramento Bee

Imagine being able to find the exact social services you need with the simple click of a mouse button.

Or researching medications and the latest studies in the wee hours of the morning, from the comfort of your home.

Or creating a personal, password-protected file online where you can store vital medical information about an elderly parent and that other relatives also can access to stay informed or in case of emergency. All these and more are possible, thanks to a new Placer County Web site aimed at providing individuals, families and public and private agencies with access to information and resources regarding health and wellness issues.

The Web site, called Network of Care for Placer County, was launched last month and is part of a statewide online information system, funded in part by the state Mental Health Services Act.

"This will provide a virtual community, a virtual marketplace to be able to share information among those in need," said Dr. Richard Burton, director of the county's Health and Human Services.

Nearly every county statewide has launched a version of the Web site, which officials can specifically tailor to suit the individual county's needs. Placer County's site focuses on issues surrounding mental health, and also includes information related to drug and alcohol abuse, community health, children's needs and social services.

"I'm pretty excited about this," said Maureen Bauman, director of the county's Adult System of Care. "It gives easy access to a much wider range of services. There are a lot of features that are really going to help people."

The site features a welcome page where users can access a range of topics, including the service directory listing more than 400 local agencies, what they provide and contact information. Another link to an online library offers information on more than 4,000 health topics and 30,000 studies.

There also is a link to the Network of Care for Kids, a similar product sponsored by the county and state Children and Families First Five Commission, which focus on services for children from birth to 5 years old.

Users can also access information about health coverage and low-cost insurance programs, links to government programs, learn more about organizations that provide advocacy and support for people and families living with mental illness, substance abuse or developmental disabilities and track state and federal legislation and find information regarding their local elected representatives.

A "My Folder" section of the Web site serves as a kind of file of favorites where users can store their own lists and service directory.

The password-protected feature also allows users to post messages and information and can be accessed by other family members if the password is known, thereby making it easier for family members to share information about persons in their families who may be receiving care.

The Web site can be read in any of seven languages: English, Spanish, Russian, Cantonese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Cambodian.

The Web site was praised by county officials, as well as those in the private sector, who said just the service directory feature alone will be monumental in reducing the hours professionals and families spend trying to find the right services.

"This tool replaces mountains of binders, 3-by-5 cards and index cards that our staff continuously compiled and sifted through for families and provides the info at the click of a button," said DeAnne Thornton, executive director of the nonprofit Child Abuse Prevention Council of Placer County. "I really expect that it's going to increase access to these services."