Area counties face challenges brought on by aging demographic, pandemic, other factors

Area counties face challenges brought on by aging demographic, pandemic, other factors

Mental health challenges, substance use disorders, chronic diseases and food security are areas that counties throughout the Finger Lakes region will address over the next few years, according to the findings of a new report.

These issues are key drivers of health outcomes, the recently released Comprehensive Regional Community Health Assessment shows.

The assessment was produced by Common Ground Health and the Chemung, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties public health departments and partners.

The 300-page report outlines regional trends in physical and mental health outcomes and takes a detailed look at several topics driving public health in each county in the region.

According to the report’s key findings, “The Finger Lakes region’s health has been challenged by a variety of factors and circumstances ranging from demographic changes to public health crises. Addressing these challenges requires creative thinking, careful planning and coordinated action.”

Mary Beer, public health director for Ontario County, said completing a regional health community assessment in addition to a county-specific assessment gives a broader view of the situation.

“It prevents redundancies and allows neighboring counties to pool limited resources,” she said.

Every three years the groups create county reports and provide key input into the regional health assessment, which they then use to guide their planning and prioritization processes.

Local entities must choose two of the following areas in which to focus community improvement efforts during the plan period:

  • Preventing chronic disease.
  • Promoting a healthy and safe environment.
  • Promoting healthy women, infants and children.
  • Promoting well-being and prevent mental and substance use disorders and
  • Preventing communicable diseases.

Theresa Green, director of the Monroe County Community Health Improvement Workgroup, said the group is focused on two health issues: reducing disparities in maternal and child health and building supportive mental health environments.

Beer

Monroe County Community Health Improvement Workgroup’s efforts will include input from the community and collaborations between the hospitals, health departments and Common Ground Health, she said.

Public health departments around the Finger Lakes region in general are focusing on efforts such as tobacco prevention (specifically e-cigarette/vaping), chronic disease preventive care and management, healthy eating and food security.

Many of these challenges have been exacerbated by COVID-19, the report shows.

That includes the number of people who worry they will have enough food until they get money to buy more and the increase in the number of people calling 211 for matters related to crisis intervention and suicide.

The report also noted that the population of the Finger Lakes region is trending older, which puts new strain on the region’s health care system and providers.

Although the population across counties overall is projected to shrink slightly, the Finger Lakes region is projected to have an 11-percent increase in the number of older adults over the next five years.

Meeting the needs of these older adults will require additional capacity in healthcare and social services, despite a predicted decline in the number of working age adults locally, the report noted.

The assessment also identified concerns about significant increases in suicide fatalities, opioid overdose deaths and treatment program admissions throughout the region.

Several counties are planning to offer mental health first aid trainings and naloxone administration trainings as part of efforts to address these trends.

Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health, applauded the ongoing collaboration by the region’s health departments, health systems, health care providers and community partners for capturing the key issues facing each of their counties.

Norwood

He noted that past community assessments have helped improve health outcomes.

Common Ground Health’s 2019 Rapid Elmira Health Impact Assessment, for example, made recommendations to address housing-related health disparities in lead exposure in Elmira, Chemung County.

Based on the report recommendations, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield gave a three-year grant for a new community health clinic in Elmira that offers lead screenings, he said.

In one year, the clinic staff had completed 106 lead screenings and plans are underway to add diabetes and behavioral health screenings in the future, Norwood said.

The current report is available at commongroundhealth.org/CHA2022.

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