Chatham County Community Assessment Highlights Health Inequities and Priorities

To help gain insight into the well-being and issues of its community, the Chatham County Health Department has put together an in-depth investigation and report. Released earlier this month, the 2021 Chatham County Community Assessment aims to understand the needs of its residents while providing organizations with a means to take action.

Maia Fulton-Black, a population health data specialist at the Department of Health, was the report’s lead editor. She recently spoke with 97.9 The Hill about why the county is partnering with several groups to collect surveys and extract data from the US Census.

“We do this in conjunction with the Chatham Health Alliance as well as Chatham Hospital,” she said. “For us, it meets the needs assessment requirements of the hospital as well as the accreditation requirements of local health services. It is also very influential for the planning and implementation of the work of the Chatham Health Alliance – they use the assessment to set priorities for health and wellbeing in the county for the next three years.

As the Department of Health and the Chatham Health Alliance team up to report on the county’s health status in the years between surveys, the community assessment aims to dig deeper into the data and broader topics that affect health. The project also examines more health inequities between groups and shares ways for community members to take action.

Fulton-Black said, to her, there weren’t many surprises in the report’s findings — particularly the impact of systemic racism and marginalization on people’s health or access to care. The assessment indicated that black and Latino residents reported being nearly four times more likely to experience poverty in 2020 than white county residents.

“We find that translates to all the topics we covered in the survey,” Fulton-Black said. “It’s definitely something concerning and something we’ve put a lot of effort into addressing.”

Since Chatham County’s last community assessment, Fulton-Black said one area stood out for its decline.

“One thing we’ve seen is changes in mental health, particularly in young people, but also in the adults we surveyed. Many mental health indicators across different questions, including [handling] stress and anxiety, decreased. And unfortunately, this is something that we also see at the state level and at the national level.

Zachary Horner, who is the public information officer for the Chatham County Public Health Department, is helping to share the assessment on the county’s various communication platforms. He said one of his biggest personal lessons is the residents’ lack of or struggle for health care.

“According to our community survey,” he said, “30.9% of Chatham County residents reported some kind of barrier to accessing health care in the past year. It could be finances, it could be not having a way to get there, it could be finding a health care provider who takes their insurance.

“I think a lot of us take for granted [that access]“added Horner,” there are people [for whom it is] a serious problem they face in their lives. It’s just something that really continues to stick with me.

Now that the assessment is out, Horner said a critical next step is to ensure community members can interact with the information. He said the health department regularly shares some of its findings on social media and also tries to focus on a few topics at a time.

“We tried to combine certain data points into singular reports or fact sheets,” Horner said. “We have two on our website: one is about gun violence and safety, and the other is about substance use. So, [the goal became] remove them and make them a little more digestible.

Fulton-Black said she hopes Chatham County residents will see their experiences represented in the community assessment, while learning about the perspectives and issues of others.

“And,” she added, “we hope it will encourage people to get involved in their community and use this information to make a difference.”

The 2021 Chatham County Community Assessment is available on the County Government website.

Photo via City of Pittsboro.


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