Communication and information exchange in Libby, Montana : a secondary data analysis of community advisory group meeting summaries
Blata-Pennock, Natasha Nicole
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Residents of the rural town of Libby, Montana are impacted by what has been called the worst case of community wide asbestos exposure in United States history. Over a decade after cleanup of the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite began, Libby area residents continue to experience the related aftermath of widespread asbestos exposure, including asbestos-related disease (ARD) and other chronic illnesses, an ongoing environmental cleanup effort and the conduct of multiple research studies. Effective communication is an essential element of trust and confidence in community-based activities. Although the Libby Community Advisory Group (CAG) was established as a two-way forum for communication and information exchange between the community and agencies involved in providing services to the community, little is known about the community's preferred modes of communication and the community's awareness, knowledge, acceptance and resistance to biomedical and behavioral research. The purpose of this study was to identify concerns, perceptions and preferences of Libby area residents related to research communication, information exchange and other issues pertinent to the community's health and well-being. A retrospective, qualitative analysis of CAG meeting summaries was conducted to identify themes that could lead to a better understanding of critical communication issues between community members and health service providers, policymakers, researchers and agencies involved with the environmental investigation and cleanup of the Libby area. A total of 53 meeting summaries from four years (2001, 2003, 2006 & 2008) representing seminal events in the community were examined. Eleven primary topics of discussion emerged from the data. Libby residents use a variety of communication and information exchange methods, including letters, newspapers and CAG meetings. Face-to-face communication is valued by the community. The community generally has a positive and supportive view of research, and coordination between researchers and local healthcare providers is important to community members. Rural traits and concepts were present in the CAG meetings, including independence, self-reliance, hardiness/resilience, distance/isolation and insider/outsider. Results support research in the Libby community, and emphasize the importance of communication of research opportunities, updates and results and the coordination of research activities with local healthcare agencies. Implications for practice and future research also are presented.