Wake has begun a months-long evaluation of the county’s health status and needs, which will be used to help set priorities for improving the health of residents.
The state requires all counties to conduct a Community Health Assessment every four years, and the latest Wake CHA began in January. The process includes surveying residents about their health concerns, holding focus groups with various populations and gathering the latest data about health in the county.
“We combine what the numbers are saying with what the people are saying,” said Lechelle Wardell, a program consultant with the office of community affairs at the county’s human services department. The CHA will be completed by June, and then the county will work with various community groups to develop an action plan.
To complete the CHA, the county works with partners including the United Way and local clinics and hospitals, and the partners share the approximately $100,000 cost, Wardell said.
The clinics and hospitals must meet federal community health assessment requirements, so the collaboration saves all the groups money and allows them to work together on identifying the community’s needs and deciding how best to meet them, said Stan Taylor, the vice president for corporate planning at WakeMed Health & Hospitals.
The CHA takes a broad view of health and looks not just at the physical and mental health of residents but also at factors such as their insurance status, access to nutritious food and exercise options, safety and the health of their environment. All those factors play an important role in residents’ health, Taylor said. For example, a child with no exercise and a poor diet may not be sick now, but in several years, he or she may have Type 2 diabetes and need significant treatment.
“If we can intervene, then we don’t see them,” Taylor said. “They stay healthy, and that’s everybody’s goal.”
In the 2010 CHA, the county identified two top priorities for eight geographic regions of the county and three priorities for the county overall: the rates at which people were overweight or obese, lack of health insurance and unemployment. Since then, the county has tried to address those needs with projects such as expanding the use of food stamps at farmers markets, encouraging doctors and nurses to volunteer their time at clinics and offering job training, according to Wardell.
When the county conducts its surveys, residents are asked broad questions about their health concerns, a format that allows officials to see how residents’ priorities shift over the years. In 2010, the county conducted the surveys as the nation struggled with a weak economy, and residents had lots of concerns about job security, Wardell said.
“We saw what was going on in the national arena affecting what our communities were saying,” she said. “We’ll see how that changes.”