Forum focused on tackling community’s health priorities

Published 6:46 pm Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rutherford-Polk-McDowell health director Jimmy Hines speaks to a crowd of people at the Community Health Forum held Tuesday, Feb. 5 at the ICC-Polk Campus. (photo by Kathy Woodham)

Chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol ranked among a litany of issues the 2012 Polk County Community Health Assessment found challenging the wellness of Polk County residents.

As a joint effort of St. Luke’s Hospital, Rutherford-McDowell-Polk Health District and Polk Fit, Fresh and Friendly, a community health forum was held Tuesday, Feb. 5 to discuss methods of tackling these issues.

“The data and opinions that were compiled and presented during the Community Health Forum provide a comprehensive snapshot of the overall health of our residents. With that information, we can project future needs for advocacy and community services,” said Ken Shull, chief executive officer for St. Luke’s Hospital. “We have a benchmark, and over the next three years, we will be able to measure a change in the priorities we address.”

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Data, for example, showed Polk County fighting a 60.5 percent rate of obesity. Though this number remains below the region, state and national levels, it still accounts for more than half of the population. Much of this might be because less than half of the population reports meeting the physical activity recommendation of 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. In Polk County only 45.7 percent of residents claim to be active at that level, according to the assessment.

Through a district-wide health survey, conducted by phone last year, 200 people in Polk responded to questions related to their health and well-being.

Among adults surveyed, 29.4 percent reported a lack of health care insurance, while 19.8 percent said on some occasions in the last year they had to decide between buying food and paying bills. A total of 37.3 percent reported experiencing high blood pressure in Polk, while only 31.5 percent did statewide.

Jimmy Hines, Rutherford-Polk-McDowell district health director, said the assessment is a critical tool to discover what steps need to be taken but now the agencies must work together to find real results.

“We use collective impact by using resources that are shared and working collaboratively with anyone who has interest in trying to create more opportunity for better health in Polk County,” Hines said. “We have got to work on solutions together even though a particular target might not be one organization’s primary mission.”

For example, tobacco use might not be the immediate concern of Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry but they could provide pamphlets in their lobby that would educate clients about the costs of smoking tobacco.  Another example might be Polk County transportation working to transport residents to weekly farmers markets so they would have access to fresh foods.