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Toe River Health District Compiles Community Health Assessments of Avery, Mitchell and Yancey Counties; Substance Abuse Tops List of Health Concern in Each County

By Tim Gardner

The Toe River Health District has compiled a health assessment report of Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties, of which it governs. The primary health concerns for all three counties are similar with not surprisingly, substance abuse topping the list in each of the counties. Mental health, obesity and domestic violence are also top concerns in every county. Avery County also lists food insecurity, poverty and housing expenses. Mitchell’s other top concerns include childcare, services for homebound elderly and need for caregivers. Yancey’s other concerns include aging problems, chronic disease and lack of healthy lifestyles.

“The community health needs’ assessment is compiled every three years and each time it takes about six months to one year to complete. The assessment is very comprehensive and thorough with an abundance of information, data. and community involvement,” Toe River Health District Director Diane Creek said.

From this report the Toe River Health District is immediately taking further measures, based on the findings, to develop a community health improvement plan for all residents of the three counties. 

To develop that plan, the Community Health Assessment Facilitator will convene community members and partners interested in moving forward on the selected health priorities. Action teams will then emerge from the selected health priorities and those teams will begin brainstorming evidence-based strategies. Collaborative action planning with hospitals and other community partners will result in the creation of a community-wide plan that outlines what will be aligned, supported and/or implemented to address the priority health issues identified through this assessment process. A key step in action planning will be to determine what is currently happening regarding the top health concerns, and what needs to happen to combat these health concerns in each county.

Creek explained the community health assessment procedures in detail.  “Several things determine the health priorities,” she noted. “We compare the statistical data to the results from community surveys conducted to determine any correlation between the two sources.  Our staff also conducts several key informant interviews with leaders who work and live in areas our health district covers to capture their points of view.  After all the information is gathered, our staff forms a Community Health Assessment team (usually an already formed health partnership) and analyze all the information.  This team comes up with a list of top ten issues for the counties.  We go back to the communities and invite all who are interested to attend a public forum to discuss each issue in detail and narrow the list to the three top health concerns.  This process is done by the community for the community.  It is useful information for everyone.”

Creek shared the process further with the following remarks: “After the top three concerns are finalized, the document is prepared and distributed to the public. At that time, we have the six months to form ideas, evaluate resources and inquire about potential opportunities for each county.  The team collaborates and discusses what is already being done, what can be done better and what would we like to see done around each issue.  We think of the big picture and endless possibilities, then we brainstorm and delegate on how we can make it happen.  It is really a unique and motivating discussion among all the community partners in each county.”

Creek continued: “The action plan starts immediately. Actually, some of the actions happen simultaneously while the plan is being written. This is because some of the strategies are happening, but are being improved or enhanced.  The actions included in the plan are tasks that all community partners are working on together, not just what the health department is doing, or just the hospital or any single agency.   It is what we are all doing and how we all can help each other.  Communication and awareness are key components when working together to combat any issue.”

To view the full health assessment reports for each county, use the below links:

Avery County Report: http://www.toeriverhealth.org/2021%20Avery%20County%20CHA_Final_21422.pdf

Mitchell County Report: http://www.toeriverhealth.org/2021%20Mitchell%20County%20CHA_Final_21422.pdf

Yancey County Report: http://www.toeriverhealth.org/2021%20Yancey%20County%20CHA_Final_21422.pdf