Uninsured rate, obesity top Polk County health issues, says Wellness Coalition report

Published 6:40 pm Thursday, February 10, 2011

The number of Polk County residents who have no medical insurance appears to be rising, according to the Polk County Wellness Coalition. Also apparently increasing is obesity in the county.
These two issues and others are addressed in a state-mandated report the coalition issued in December 2010 called the “2010 Polk State of the County Health Report” (SOTCH). This report assesses the county’s progress on priority health issues identified in the “2008 Polk County Community Health Assessment” (CHA).
The top health priorities identified by Polk County’s 2008 CHA were:
• Access to care
• Obesity
• Mental health/substance abuse
• Prevention/education
You can view the Polk Community Health Assessment online at www.rpmhd.org/new/cha/2008/index.htm.
Access to care
“Access to health care is critical to eliminating disparities in health status among North Carolinians,” said the SOTCH. “To fully realize the potential of prevention, each resident must have access to critical preventive care, primary care, emergency services, dental services, medicines, long-term care and rehabilitative services.”
Health insurance is a critical factor in ensuring access to health care, and the report said data seems to indicate the number of uninsured residents in Polk County is increasing.
The report estimates 24 percent of Polk County’s adults under age 65 are uninsured. In a community health survey conducted by the Western Carolina Community Action, 28.9 percent of the 280 respondents said they did not have health insurance, and 18.5 percent of the survey respondents reported that the children up to age 19 in their household did not have insurance.
Although sufficient data for Polk County is not available to give a true picture, the report said obesity is a growing public health concern locally, as well as in the state and country as a whole.
In 2009, Polk County’s percentage of children ages 2-18 seen in public health clinics who were obese was 15.1 percent, up from 12.4 percent in 2008, according to eatsmartmovemorenc.com. In western North Carolina, 62.8 percent of the population was obese in 2009, according to the Western North Carolina Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System.
The SOTCH examines numerous strategies to reduce obesity in Polk County, including parks, sidewalks and other facilities that encourage physical activity; youth activity programs, diet and nutrition programs in schools and the community in general and worksite wellness programs.
Mental health/substance abuse
According to the SOTCH, the Polk County Wellness Coalition’s objective is to provide services to 50 percent of uninsured Polk residents with mental health needs and substance use disorders. Based on national statistics and interviews with local providers, only 5 percent of Polk’s uninsured who need mental health and/or substance abuse services received those services in 2007. Increasing that to the coalition’s goal of 50 percent would bring the total served in Polk County to between 131 and 183 individuals.
“People without health insurance face even greater difficulties in obtaining mental health and addictions treatment services,” the SOTCH said. “Without insurance, people with mental illness or addictions disorders are at an increased risk of hospitalization, poor health outcomes and diminished quality of life.”
The report looks at some of the strategies used by the Western Highlands LME, Polk County’s mental health care provider, to improve services, especially to the uninsured.
Prevention of  and education about social afflictions is also a priority of the wellness coalition. The focus of the coalition’s prevention/education action team has been to increase social cohesion within the community, measured by an increase in volunteering. Isothermal Community College’s Creative Change Series and Unnatural Causes classes have been part of this effort, along with public meetings on various social topics in the region.
In the next few weeks, the Bulletin will take a look at some topics related to Polk County’s health, including the uninsured rate, obesity, the Rutherford/Polk Smart Start Partnership for child care, mental health care and suicide/suicide prevention.

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