New health assessment identifies 13 challenges that Douglas County residents face
Inadequate access to affordable nutritious foods and dental services are among the top challenges that Douglas County residents face when it comes to living a healthy life.
They were among 13 areas identified as needing improvement according to a new 38-page Community Health Assessment report released Monday by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.
The department along with partner agencies have been collecting data since October 2011, and more than 1,500 Douglas County residents provided information for the report by taking part in an online survey, focus groups and one-on-one interviews.
Health Department Director Dan Partridge said the report helps provide a better understanding of the issues affecting the community’s health.
“The results of the assessment point out that future health status is not just about health care. Themes around employment, personal safety and transportation were just some of the themes repeatedly mentioned,” he said.
When it comes to access to healthy foods, residents listed transportation as being a barrier. Other comments included in the report:
• Eudora doesn’t have a farmers’ market.
• North and east Lawrence neighborhoods lack grocery stores and/or restaurants that offer healthy foods.
• The food pantry lacks healthy offerings.
Eighty-one percent of residents reported consuming fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
As for dental care, the report found one in five residents had not seen a dentist in the past 12 months. In 2011, there were more than 470 cases of preventable emergency room visits at Lawrence Memorial Hospital due to dental problems.
Baldwin City residents said that couldn’t afford to take off work to visit the Douglas County Dental Clinic in Lawrence, which provides services based on a sliding-income scale.
Partridge said the report is the first community health assessment that has been done in about two decades. He said the report tracked where emergency room visits came from for dental, asthma, diabetes and alcohol treatment, and most came from areas associated with poor housing and poverty.
Other areas identified as needing improvement:
• Insufficient access to health care and other services. Thirty-five percent of adults have not had a general checkup in the past year and 20 percent do not have an identified primary care physician.
• Poverty and few job opportunities. Between 20 and 30 percent of the population lives in poverty. The rate exceeds the state average.
• Limited access to safe and affordable housing. It is estimated that 13 percent of homes have an increased risk of lead exposure.
• Abuse of alcohol. Fourteen percent of youths and 10 percent of adults had engaged in binge drinking in the past 30 days. More than 250 cases of preventable ER visits in 2011 were due to excessive alcohol use.
• Lack of access to health insurance coverage. Nearly 15 percent of residents do not have health coverage.
• Disparities in health care outcomes and quality of life. There are schools where 10 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch and others where 75 percent of children qualify. One resident commented: “Health depends on who you are and where you live.”
• Inadequate access to mental health services. About one-third of residents reported having one or more days in the past 30 days in which their mental health was not good.
• Limited knowledge of available health and other services. Residents in Eudora, Baldwin City and Lecompton noted a lack of communication venues for events, activities and services.
• Lack of physical activity. More than 50 percent of residents do not meet recommendations for weekly exercise. Many residents noted a lack of sidewalks and recreational facilities.
• Inadequate transportation linking people to services, jobs and recreation.
• Prevalence of abuse and intimate partner violence.
In May, the health department will be hosting four 90-minute public forums to discuss the Community Health Assessment and to prioritize the 13 areas. Partridge said the plan is to have participants vote on their top two issues of concern.
Partridge said the health department can’t change any of the areas on its own and neither can the hospital or even the safety net clinics.
“We are going to have to do it collectively — as a community. I may be a dreamer but that’s the goal we are shooting for, anyway,” Partridge said.