Editor’s Note: This is part of a continuing series of articles on Meigs County’s Community Health Improvement Plan.
MEIGS COUNTY — Get Healthy Meigs! (GHM!), the group which worked to put together the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) spent several months conducting assessments to learn the specific issues which impact the health of Meigs County residents.
In today’s article, we take a look at what was found through those assessments, discussions and meetings.
According to county health rankings for the 88 counties in Ohio, Meigs County is in the bottom 40 percent of many areas.
Meigs County ranks:
- 66th in health outcomes (bottom 25 percent);
- 55th in length of life (bottom 38 percent);
- 74th in quality of life (bottom 16 percent);
- 80th in health factors (bottom 9 percent);
- 80th in health behaviors (bottom 9 percent);
- 64th in clinical care (bottom 27 percent);
- 84th in social and economic factors (bottom 5 percent);
- 14th in physical environment (top 16 percent).
But what is it that contributes to those numbers and how can those things be made better. That is what the CHIP looks at.
GHM! looked at the indicators which can impact the health of the region.
There are cultural impacts to engaging local residents to improve health, including a “heartfelt love of place,” a “belief in fate” and a “distrust of people from outside the area.”
“For those reasons, individuals within the community will have the strongest possible impacts on health. Engaging residents, soliciting their feedback and having them contribute to decisions and changes in the county to improve health will provide the highest likelihood of success,” states the CHIP.
This highlights the importance of involving as many local people and organizations as possible when considering ways to improve the health of the community.
Other factors which contribute to the health are the rural challenges, including a shortage of healthcare providers, lack of employment opportunities, low wages, lack of access to exercise opportunities, and few outlets to healthy food.
Looking at the indicators and speaking with stakeholders, local residents and looking at the studies, allowed for GMH! discussions, through the community health assessment, to identify major health related themes and trends.
The major health related themes and trends identified include: Detrimental economic issues, need for recreational area, need to encourage healthy behaviors, high rates of chronic illness and mortality, stigma related to mental health; perception that individuals are to “blame” for their own health issues, perception of substance abuse as a key issue in the community, low awareness of community health resources and treatment options, a sense of hopelessness and strong sense of community support.
Detrimental economic issues include the lack of resources and opportunities for residents due to high unemployment and poverty rates which contribute to negative health behaviors and barriers to health care.
The focus group, survey, stakeholder meeting and environmental scan all indicated that there was a need for accessible recreational areas. Over two-thirds stated that there were either “few” or “none” when asked about outdoor recreation.
The Meigs County Demographic and Health Indicator Report found a pattern of behaviors that contribute to chronic medical conditions, including, low physical activity, lack of preventative care, inadequate nutrition from fruits and vegetables, high rates of smoking and a low percentage of smokers that attempt to quit.
Those and other “poor health behaviors” contribute to chronic health conditions and disease. Meigs County has high rates of lung disease, stroke, prostate cancer and colon cancer. There are also high incidences of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma.
Nearly a third of those surveyed believe that people do not seek mental health treatment because “people worry what others will find out about the issue and/or treatment.” The demographic and health indicator report suggest that mental health is a considerable issue in the county, including high depression and suicide rates.
The survey, stakeholder meetings and focus groups also found that community members tend to place blame on individuals for problems they experience related to their mental and physical health. “While there is a certain level of individual choice involved in establishing a healthy lifestyle and reaching out when help is both needed and available, it is important for community members to understand the influence that environment, habit and shame have on a person’s behavior,” the CHIP states.
Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents indicated that drug and alcohol abuse in the community was a “primary problem.” Contributing factors to substance abuse indicated by the focus group included, the scarcity of recreational outlets, the poor economy which has exacerbated unemployment and poverty in the area, the rise of opioid use in the region and poor personal choices.There is also a high co-occurrence of mental health issues and substance abuse.
Regarding the low awareness of community health resources and treatment options, 65.5 percent of those surveyed reported that substance abuse treatment was not available in the county or that they did not know if it was available in the county. Residents were also unaware of how to access mental and behavioral healthcare.
The stakeholder meeting, focus group and Forces of Change Assessment all reported a pervasive sense of apathy in the community. This is likely to increase negative health behaviors and decrease healthy behaviors.
“Meigs County is a tight-knit community, something that all participants in the CHA agreed upon. This greater sense of community contributes to the high level of social and emotional support reported by Meigs County residents,” the CHIP states.
Some of the recommendations to address the concern areas included, consistent branding, resource identification, resource sharing, evidence-based environmental strategies, engaging the community, and monitoring the health indicators over time.
Many of these can be achieved through the health department, GHM! and other stakeholders working together to create a consistent brand for all messages, as well as communicating what resources and services area available through their agencies and other agencies in the area.
Encouraging more members of the community to become involved on GHM! and the initiatives which come from it will increase the sustainability of the CHIP and the healthier lifestyles promoted through it.