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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Join the team for the health of the community

Published: Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Health Department columnist

Imagine a photo of our community's health, surrounded with a large, polished wood frame that represents the beauty and diversity of where we live, learn, work and play.

Within the frame's boundaries, the photo reveals the most influential health issues that currently affect the health of all Henderson County citizens-regardless of background, education or income. Does the photo surprise you?

Essentially this is what Henderson County's Community Health Assessment is, a photo of our community's health in the form of a written report. It identifies factors that affect the health of a population and determines the resources within the community to address these factors.

It's an important document because it is local; it begins where we live and work, and it's a picture of where we are today. It gives us the opportunity to assess what choices we've made or want to make to allow us to live a long, healthy life. It directs us about what we need to do to improve the health of our community. And it affects everyone.

Every three years, the CHA is conducted in partnership with local hospitals, Park Ridge Health and Pardee Hospital, as well as the western region of North Carolina through a collaborative process with WNC Healthy Impact. The last CHA was completed in 2012, so 2015 signaled that is was time to begin anew.

To start the process and to see the big picture, assessment activities and research, based on both primary and secondary data sources, were used. For primary data, a regionwide telephone-based survey was administered, with 200 Henderson County residents talking about their health status, health behaviors, interactions with clinical care services, support for certain health-related policies and other factors that impact their quality of life.

An online survey was directed toward community leaders, physicians, public health representatives, social service providers and other health professionals who shared their opinions and perceptions of the health of area residents. Through this process, input was gathered from individuals whose organizations work with low-income, minority populations or other medically underserved populations.

In addition, 169 participants ages 12-85 participated in focus groups, listening sessions and client interviews. Secondary data was gathered from sources in the public domain including (but not limited to) the US Census Bureau, the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics and the N.C. Division of Medical Assistance.

Much information was gathered and thoughtfully considered in completing this report. Let me share some of the highlights about our community:

  • Henderson County has a large elderly population due to a favorable climate and regional location for retirees.
  • The county has experienced unbroken population growth for over four decades, and is projected to continue a similar trend for at least the next fifteen years — despite declining birth rates.
  • The elderly population will continue to grow, with the highest percentage of growth in the age group of 85 and older.
  • Though unemployment rates in the county have been decreasing and are lower than the state, total poverty has increased overall.
  • More children than adults live in poverty in Henderson County.
  • Renters in Henderson County on average spend more of their income on housing compared to those in the region and state.
  • The leading causes of death in Henderson County are cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, unintentional injuries (including drug overdose) and cerebrovascular disease.
  • The teen pregnancy rate has steadily decreased overall since the 2006 reporting period and continues to be slightly lower than the state rate.
  • According to the most recent NC-NPASS data, 18.2 percent of the participating children in Henderson County age 2-4 were overweight, and an additional 14.1 percent were obese.
  • Opioids caused the highest proportion of drug overdose deaths in Henderson County and in the state.
  • Residents being served by mental health programs have been decreasing, but this doesn't mean decreased need. Due to funding cuts and organizational changes, many patients are left to seek services from emergency rooms, and many more are left with no services.
  • Several populations are at risk, including the elderly, minorities, undocumented residents and those living in poverty.

The outcome from the whole CHA process resulted in selecting the following four health priorities to focus on for the next three years:

  1. Access/quality of mental health services
  2. Substance abuse
  3. Obesity
  4. Safe and affordable housing

Determining these priorities was just the first step. What happens next is that local hospitals and community partners will come together to create Community Health Assessment Action Teams, which will develop action plans and strategies to address these health priorities.

Consider this your invitation to be a community partner with us. Start by reading the full 2015 CHA Report, which is available by clicking the Community Data link at www.hendersoncountync.org/health. Then if you have questions or are ready to serve on a team, contact Stacy Taylor, health education director, at 828-694-6063.

This is your opportunity to truly make a difference in the health of Henderson County. Won't you join the team?

Kim Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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Department of Public Health • 1200 Spartanburg Highway, Suite 100 • Hendersonville, NC 28792 • (828) 692-4223