Washington County residents aren’t living as long as they are used to, as the rates of suicides and drug overdoses are increasing.
Meanwhile, mortality rates from heart disease, cancer and diabetes have gone down, and fewer county residents lack health insurance.
A new report released Wednesday delves into the good and the bad news of the county’s health. The 115-page Community Health Needs Assessment also outlines some paths to improvement.
“While the data in the study may seem discouraging, it provides us with an opportunity — an opportunity to align our goals and programs to accurately address what our community needs,” Allen Twigg, executive director of Meritus Behavioral and Community Health, said in a news release.
‘From assessment to improvement’
The assessment is done every three years.
It is developed by Healthy Washington County, a coalition of organizations that range from the Meritus Health system and the Brook Lane mental health organization to the Washington County Health Department and the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.
This year’s report also had to put a pandemic into its calculations.
“The ongoing impact of COVID-19 on future costs associated with postponed treatment and reduced preventive care (such as screenings for behavioral, social and medical conditions) is unknown at this time,” Twigg said in an email Wednesday.
“The cancellation of events and family gatherings certainly had an impact on the behavioral health of our community,” he said. “However, as we can begin to gather safely, we are working to create connection points to address the social isolation and loneliness that came from the pandemic. Through a network of volunteers, our care callers are reaching out to anyone who identified as being lonely .”
Despite the pandemic, the county’s overall health needs and priorities are largely unchanged from the assessment done three years ago, the report states.
The top three health priorities are mental health, obesity and substance use.
There are 14 other items on the list. They range from diabetes to smoking to sexually transmitted diseases.
‘Drive our work plans’
Danielle Stahl, spokeswoman for the Washington County Health Department, said the document becomes something of an outline that people and organizations can follow.
Stahl and Twigg are co-chairs of Healthy Washington County.
“We really try to use this assessment to drive our work plans and goals for the next three years,” she said.
Mertius, for example, detailed plans to address the obesity issue through the Go for Bold initiative, with the goal of losing 1 million pounds as a community by 2030. So far, more than 30,000 pounds have been lost through the program.
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Meritus also mentioned establishing regional crisis center services. The goal is to improve access to behavioral health services, thereby reducing overdoses and suicides.
Brook Lane also outlined plans to improve the county’s mental health and reduce substance abuse.
According to the report, much of the county’s overall health depends upon individual actions and circumstances.
The report states that only 20% of health outcomes are attributed to the quality of clinical care.
Meanwhile, 30% is accounted for by health behaviors, while 40% is attributed to social determinants (such as a person’s income, access to health services and the physical environment).
Progress and problems
According to the assessment, the leading causes of death among Washington County adults are heart disease (22%) and cancer (19%).
The document also lists other statistics and trends, and it points out problems of inequity and access. For example, it states there is a lack of beds for people experiencing mental health crises.
Improving Washington County trends include fewer uninsured people, an increased supply of dentists and lower rates of air pollution.
But at the same time, life expectancy has declined over 10 years, largely because of overdose fatalities and an increased rate of suicide.
Some of the other facts and figures:
- The mortality rate for heart disease and cancer both decreased 2% since the last measurement period in 2018.
- The diabetes mortality rate is decreasing.
- Fewer opioid prescriptions are being prescribed.
- The survival rate for colon, and head and neck cancers are improving.
- The number of overweight adults increased by 3.3% since last the last assessment.
- The number of adults who are physically inactive increased by 2% since the last assessment.
- While diabetes prevalence, at 10.3%, is similar to the rest of the state, Washington County has the second-highest rate of diabetes mortality.
- Given the higher-than-average rates for physical inactivity and for being overweight and obese, residents are at higher risk for developing diabetes.
- The rate of suicide, at 14.7 per 100,000 lives, has increased in Washington County while the state average has slightly decreased over the past six years.
- There is a steady increase of drug overdose fatalities over the past 10 years, at a rate that is higher than the state average.
- There is a correlation between health, wellness and the rate of poverty, which is higher in Washington County (12.2%) than in the state (9.2%).
Mike Lewis covers business, the economy and other issues. Follow Mike on Twitter: @MiLewis.