Chatham County Community Assessment Highlights Health

To help get a snapshot of its community’s wellbeing and issues, the Chatham County Health Department assembled an extensive survey and report. Published earlier this month, the 2021 Chatham County Community Assessment aims to understand the needs of its residents while providing a path for organizations to take action.

Maia Fulton-Black, a population health data scientist with the health department, was the primary editor on the report. She recently spoke with 97.9 The Hill about why the county teams up with several groups to collect surveys and pull from U.S. Census data.

“We do this in collaboration with the Chatham Health Alliance as well as Chatham Hospital,” she said. “For us, it fulfills the needs assessment requirement for the hospital as well as accreditation requirements for local health departments. It’s also really influential for the planning and implementation of Chatham Health Alliance’s work – they use the assessment to establish the priorities for health and well-being in the county for the next three years.”

While the health department and Chatham Health Alliance team up for the State of the County Health Report in years between surveys, the community assessment aims to dive further into data and broader topics that affect one’s 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 were not many surprises in the report’s results – especially the impact of systemic racism and marginalization on people’s health or access to care. The assessment said Black and Latinx residents reported being nearly four times more likely to experience poverty in 2020 compared to the county’s white residents.

“We see that resulting in all of the topics we covered in the survey,” said Fulton-Black. “That definitely something that is worrisome and that we put a lot of effort into addressing.”

Since the last Chatham County Community Assessment, Fulton-Black said one area stood out in its decline.

“One thing that we saw was some changes in mental health, particularly among youth but also in the adults we surveyed. A lot of mental health indicators across different questions, including [handling] stress and anxiety, went down. And unfortunately, that is something we’re seeing at the state and national level as well.”

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

“According to our community survey,” he said, “30.9 percent of Chatham County residents reported some kind of barrier to accessing healthcare last year. That could be finances, that could be not having a way to get there, that could be finding a health provider that takes their insurance.”

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

Now that the assessment is published, Horner said a critical next step is making the sure community members can engage with the information. He said the health department has been regularly sharing some of their findings on social media, and also trying to focus on a few topics at a time.

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

Fulton-Black said her hope is Chatham County residents see their experiences represented in the community assessment, while also learning about others perspectives and issues.

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

The 2021 Chatham County Community Assessment can be found on the county government’s website.


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Mental Health