Annual report is a check-up on the county’s health

Feb. 22, 2014 @ 01:18 PM

How healthy is Durham?  What is affecting the health of its residents?  What groups of residents are experiencing poorer health, or do not get as much needed health care?

Much like the recommended annual physical for adults, Durham’s health gets a regular check-up too.

Every year, the Partnership for a Healthy Durham develops a report on the health of Durham’s residents. Every three years, Durham County conducts a community health assessment to describe the community’s health, celebrate our successes, and set priorities to make improvements. The next community health assessment is underway, and will be completed in December of 2014.

The 2013 State of the County Health Report was assembled using state, national, and local data to provide a complete picture of county health. This report is designed to inform the public, support discussions about health, and report on progress toward health goals.

As a result of the 2011 Community Health Assessment, six health priorities were identified in Durham County: 

-- Access to Healthcare

-- HIV / STD Prevention and Treatment

-- Obesity and Chronic Illness Prevention

-- Substance Abuse/Mental Health

-- Education

-- Poverty

A two-page report on each of the areas, as well as supporting data, can be found in Durham’s State Of The County Health report at www.healthydurham.org.

Durham County’s population continues to grow steadily; in 2013, the county population was 279,641.The leading causes of death in Durham were cancer (most frequently, lung cancer) and heart disease.

People who are poor, or don’t have health insurance, are more likely to be sick and die early. The proportion of Durham County adults living in poverty (that is, making less than $23,550 per year for a family of 4) has grown slightly since 2007 (from 16 percent to 20 percent). Close to one quarter of Durham County adults (ages 18-64) and 10 percent of children did not have health insurance in 2013. This may change in 2014, as the Affordable Care Act is implemented. Close to 18,000 county residents are expected to be eligible for subsidies in the Health Care Exchange marketplace (this is roughly 40 percent of the County’s uninsured; U.S. Census estimates, 2010). However, some county residents will remain uninsured. Because North Carolina did not expand Medicaid in 2014, it is estimated that close to 20,000 county residents who would have been insurable under the Medicaid expansion will remain uninsured. In addition, undocumented county residents will remain uninsured.

Whether uninsured or insured, healthy behaviors improve health outcomes. Survey results suggest that physical activity may be increasing -- residents getting the recommended amount of physical activity increased from 45 percent to 52 percent in 2012. The best news is that the rates of deaths caused by heart disease and cancer continued to drop in 2012, suggesting that the combination of improvements in healthy behavior and medical care are affecting overall outcomes.

Key concerns highlighted include increasing illicit prescription drug use reported by Durham County youth and an increasing number of emergency department visits due to substance abuse. County groups are working together to decrease injury caused by illicit prescription drug use.

Work by the Partnership for a Healthy Durham and the Durham County Department of Public Health to address these concerns includes:

-- Work to support a culture of eating well and exercising. Examples include completing the second Healthy Mile Trail (in East Durham, near the Holton Career Resource Center) and starting on the third, implementing a Healthy Aisle pilot project and mobile farmers markets, and participating in five Bull City PlayStreets. Finally, ahealthierdurham.com was launched to make it easy to track progress, find exercise options and make exercising fun!

-- Work to address chronic diseases. Examples include providing hepatitis B and C and HIV screening in non-traditional locations; by providing diabetes services in the community through the Durham Diabetes Coalition; by increasing the amount of low-cost adult dental care available.

The Partnership for a Healthy Durham (www.healthydurham.org) continues to work on these issues. We encourage and welcome anyone from the community to join us!

Erika Samoff is coordinator for the Partnership for a Healthy Durham and an epidemiologist.