What is the state of health and healthcare in Macon County? Are things getting better or worse? These are just some of the questions that Healthy Carolinians of Macon County (HCMC) hope to answer in its 2011 Comprehensive Community Health Assessment designed to provide a greater understanding of the health needs of the community.
A telephone survey of more than 400 county residents is one of the tools being used to collect data for the assessment, and over the next couple of months, homes will be called at random to contact participants for the survey. As of a Feb. 23 meeting of the HCMC Community Assessment Steering Committee, 130 telephone surveys had already been completed, according to Bill Stiles of Stiles Healthcare Strategies, Inc., a healthcare consulting organization based in Chattanooga, Tenn., which is helping the committee conduct the assessment.
The survey will provide a representative sample for demographic analyses by factors such as age, income, educational level and health status. Questions in the survey focus on general health, experiences accessing and paying for healthcare, health and lifestyle habits such as smoking and exercise, and attitudes about community lifestyles.
The researchers will be able to compare the data with other known databases, including the Center for Disease Control and the National Health Information survey. This gives Macon County health officials information about how the county “stacks up” against the region, state and nation, said Stiles.
Kathy McGaha, HCMC program director, says that the 2011 survey is a follow-up to one conducted in 2007 for the last community assessment. “The telephone study will give us an opportunity to hear from a large number of local residents, evaluate where we are on a number of health issues, and measure our progress over the past few years.”
The survey requires 15-20 minutes to complete, according to Stiles. He encouraged residents to be generous with their time and cooperate with interviewers when they call.
“This is not a short survey, but those who agree to participate will find it interesting and worth their time,” said Stiles. He noted that bilingual interviewers are also available to encourage participation by Spanish-speaking residents. Up to 6,000 telephone calls will be necessary to complete the 400-interview target.
“This study is very important to our community’s efforts to plan for the future and prioritize resources,” said McGaha, adding that the time investment by participants will yield important benefits for the community. “We all want better health and a better community. Studies like this one help us understand our needs.”
At the steering committee meeting, Stiles reported on the progress so far with the survey. As is often the case, about 70 percent of the respondents so far have been women. Stiles said this is not uncommon, especially in rural settings (in the 2007 survey, 69 percent were women). He added that the survey will still have an adequate sample size of men and that there are advantages to reaching more women.
“Quite often women have the insight into the health situation in their families,” he explained. He added that women are also often more familiar with the medical history of their children, which the survey also asks about.
On the other hand, Stiles said that in the 2007 survey, senior-aged participants were overly represented. To help the survey achieve a broader range of ages, this year the committee has decided to limit the over-65 participants to 20 percent of the total number of the survey, which is roughly equivalent to the county’s actual population distribution. (County planner Derek Roland estimates that 22 percent of county residents are over 65, significantly higher than the state average of 12 to 13 percent.)
The telephone survey, which was begun on the week of Feb. 14, utilizes a database of Macon County phone numbers that are called at random. Landline telephones are most likely to be called. Those with mobile phones only can call Healthy Carolinians at (828)349-2426 and add their numbers to the database.
Besides the telephone survey, the assessment will also include interviews and focus groups with community representatives and healthcare providers. The assessment team is working to identify various cross-sections in the county whose survey responses would be useful for the healthcare community.
“It is an effort to get different voices together talking about health priorities for Macon County,” Stiles explained. In 2007, the following focus groups were assembled:
• Macon County Schools Health Advisory Council
• Franklin High School Seniors
• Area PTO Presidents
• Area Business Health Coalition Members
• Mental Health Professionals
• Hispanic Community Leaders and Advocates
Another important part of the assessment process is the collection and updating of secondary research, including information published from a variety of sources such as universities, the state Department of Health, as well as local organizations. Stiles explained that the research allows the assessment to be put into context. Census data will also be included in the assessment.
The goal of the Community Health Assessment, which is done every four years, is to identify health priorities for the community. During the Feb. 23 meeting, members of the steering committee engaged in discussions of potential priorities for the next four years. The steering committee comprises a wide range of community representatives from both the public and private sectors.
The following focuses were listed as priorities for the community in the 2007 assessment:
• Improving major health indicators in Macon County
• Expanding access to healthcare
• Expanding access to mental health services
• Strengthening families and reducing youth risky behavior
• Supporting seniors and long term care needs
• Promoting environmental quality
• Advocacy of increased awareness and support Stiles noted that significant gains had been made in most of these areas over the past four years. He listed specific examples such as improved mental health services and the establishment of the free health clinic.
For more information about the Comprehensive Community Health Assessment, contact Healthy Carolinians at (828)349-2426.