Bennett presents 2019 State of the County Health Report

Public Health Educator Debbie Bennett presented the 2019 State of the County Health Report to the Stanly County commissioners Monday night.

Bennett discussed the top three priority issues in the county: tobacco use, substance misuse and obesity.

The issues were determined by Partners in Health, a Stanly County Health Task Force comprised of representatives from local agencies and community groups as well as private citizens. The issues were selected after reviewing the results of the 2018 Community Health Assessment and the available data.

“By having to do this state of the county health report, we are very vigilant in making sure we are addressing the needs in this community,” Bennett said.

The health department creates community health improvement plans, or CHIPS, to help address the issues most affecting the county. Each CHIP has both short-term (1-3 years) and long-term (5-10 years) strategies for working to alleviate the issues.

To improve tobacco use, the health department is working to decrease the percentage of people exposed to secondhand smoke in county facilities (short term) while working to decrease the percentage of adults who are current smokers (long term).

Bennett said a policy declaring county buildings, vehicles and grounds to be Smoke Free /Tobacco Free that was introduced to the commissioners last year will hopefully be adopted in the near future. She said two officials at the health department trained in smoking cessation will offer community programs to help people stop smoking.

To combat substance abuse, more community involvement is needed to utilize evidence-based solutions to help alleviate the problem (short term). There has been an increase in membership in Project Lazarus, a group comprised of public health, health care, law enforcement, mental health personnel and concerned citizens to combat drug abuse.

The health department also received an Emergency Overdose Response grant to develop a post overdose response team (PORT). This program provides referral services through the Community Paramedic Program created last year. Stanly EMS has responded to 155 opioid overdoses from May through December of last year.

The long-term strategy to combat substance abuse is establishing a safe syringe program (SSP). According to the health department, evaluations of SSPs reflect a decrease in the incidence of HIV/AIDs, Hepatitis B and C and syphilis among participants.

The health department is partnering with the faith-based, non-profit organization Grace Place in Albemarle to create a safe syringe program, where anyone in the county can drop their used syringes while picking up new ones. Grace Place is at 132 Church St. The program should start within a couple of weeks, Bennett said.

To help combat obesity within the county, Bennett emphasized the importance of people consuming five or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day (short term). The long-term strategy is to decrease the percentage of people who self-identify as obese or overweight.

She said patients accessing health care services at the health department (including WIC) or John P. Murray Community Care Clinic will receive fruits and vegetable vouchers to be used at local farmers markets.

Emerging issues for the county include Alzheimer’s disease, which was the third leading cause of mortality among residents from 2014 to 2018.

“This is not going to get better folks, because we are getting older” in the county, Bennett said. “It is just trending upward.”

Bennett said Spring Arbor senior living center has opened a Cottage Care Program for people with Alzheimer’s disease. She is working with people to establish an adult day healthcare center in the county. It would be like a day camp for older people, she said.

She also mentioned that African-Americans in the county have a higher rate of infant mortality (20.1 per 1,000 live births) compared to white people in the county (7.6) and other African-Americans across the state (12.7). To help address the issue, the health department received a three-year Healthy Beginnings grant from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health Women’s Health Branch. Healthy Beginnings is the state’s minority infant mortality reduction program. The grant’s goals, according to the health department, include improving birth outcomes among minority women, reducing minority infant morbidity and mortality and supporting families and communities.

Bennett and other health department officials will start working on the 2021 Community Health Assessment in July.

“I just love writing about Stanly County,” she said. “There’s just so much to write about that is wonderful. We are taking control, we are looking at problems, we are addressing problems and that is good news for Stanly County.”

For more information, visit the Stanly County Health Department website and click on 2019 State of the County Health Report under “Quick Connections.”