The first in a series of community meetings for the next Highland County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) survey was held Thursday Dec. 6 at the Highland County Board of Health, and Health Commissioner Jared Warner told The Times-Gazette that it’s all part of a three-year strategic planning effort.
“We are meeting this week to discuss an upcoming health survey with our community partners,” Warner said. “Many of us need to survey the public in order to provide services that address the right issues, and we need to be making decisions based on sound data, not best guesses.”
Various health care organizations were represented at the Thursday morning meeting, which was designed to reveal the health needs that exist in Highland County, and to help satisfy community assessment requirements for several local organizations including Highland County Community Action, Highland District Hospital, the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and others.
“Before our hospitals, health departments and other community agencies can create programs that serve our community, we need to measure what we are good at and what we are not good at,” Warner said. “This allows us to work as a community to improve our largest health problems.”
On the federal level, he said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention organize health related information into a broad database called “bur-fess,” short for Behavior Risk Factors Surveillance System, or BRFSS.
The problem with the federal survey procedure, Warner added, is that it may only sample 12 residents from Highland County for inclusion into the national data base.
In addition, the federal BRFFS may survey according to zip code only, which he said presents another problem with accurate data gathering.
“The 45133 zip code covers about 75 percent of the county,” Warner said. “But the needs that are present in the Rocky Fork Lake region may be very different than those in the city of Hillsboro or for that matter where I’m from, which is the Sinking Spring area.”
He said the Thursday meeting was the first step in a longer process that will lead into a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), where problems that are unique to Highland County are identified in more detail with recommendations made with community input as to how to deal with them.
Health priorities of the most recent CHIP survey, which was formally released in August 2017 and later revised in September 2018, fell into six categories, and spelled out specific goals and recommendations for achieving them:
* Reducing illegal substance abuse, with two goals of reducing drug overdoses to a rate of eight per year, and a 10 percent reduction in Hepatitis-C infections by January 2019.
* Promoting mental health awaremess by increasing the rate of mental health services in Highland County by 5 percent by June 2019, and reducing the stigma that is still associated with treatment of mental illness.
* Reduction in obesity rates through activity and better nutrition by one percent by Jan. 2019, while also promoting workplace wellness plans, and healthy cooking and eating programs for the younger generation.
* Prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
The CHIP assessment proposed increased availability and usage of screenings for cancer and heart disease, in addition to increased education related to diabetes prevention, with a goal that by July 2019 there would be measurable reductions in cancer and heart disease, and a reduction in the overall prevalence of diabetes in Highland County by 11 percent.
* Reducing the infant mortality rate in Highland County, which is 33 percent higher than the state average.
The CHIP study made recommendations to reduce the rate of infant mortality from 8.6 per 1,000 live births to 6 per 1,000 live births by July 2019.
* Reducing tobacco usage, which was identified by CHIP participants as a serious problem since findings by county health rankings show that Highland County has the third highest tobacco use rate in the state. Childhood tobacco use was singled as a health priority, with the most recent Pride survey of 2,223 students in grades 7 to 12 showing that the average age of a child’s first use of tobacco is 12.7 years.
Recommendations for increased awareness of smoking and tobacco usage were made in the CHIP report, with goals of reducing adult usage to 23 percent and student usage to 25 percent by July 2019.
Current survey figures show adult tobacco usage in Highland County at 23.7 percent, with students under the age of 18 at 28.2 percent.
Warner said that future health needs assessment meetings will be open to the public for its input, and will be included in a broader CHIP study that will be finalized in mid-2019 and implemented by early 2020.
“In a situation where we have a flu outbreak in the community, we can step in with medication and treatment and take care of it,” he said. “But the issues we’re dealing with now, such as substance abuse, obesity and tobacco use, can be so cultural and linked to behaviors in the home that it’s a tough condition to fix.”
He said his fear is that many children are being set up for serious health problems in years to come because smoking, bad nutritional habits and recreational drug use are perceived as normal behavior at home.
“If we want to put our kids on a level playing field with the rest of the country,” Warner said, “these are the problems we have to identify so we can then start working as a community to fix them.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571