Hamilton: Committee strategizes for a healthier community

Suwannee Democrat
By Joyce Marie Taylor

Members of the Strategic Health Planning Committee for Hamilton County met for a working lunch meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 12, with about 16 people from various agencies present, including Jeff Feller from Well Florida, Inc. The main objective of the meeting was to review the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) and determine if any changes needed to be made.

In attendance with Feller were Ida Daniels, Hamilton County Schools Food and Nutrition Service; Grace McDonald, Hamilton County Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coalition (Coalition); Michelle Lee, Hamilton County Tobacco Free Partnership; Heather Futch, UF/IFAS Extension Office; Susan Ramsey, Hamilton County Development Authority; Pam Lake and Cece Ellis, FDLRS/Gateway; Mac Leggett, Hamilton County EMS; Crystal Goolsby, Jacki Deas, Rel Perea, Johnny Bullard, Ron Taylor and Mark Lander from the Florida Department of Health – Hamilton County.

Below are just a few highlights of the meeting:

CHIP goals
Four separate goals were established for CHIP. 1) Report regularly to county commission and the public on key health issues. 2) Enhance emerging wellness activities in the school system. 3) Educate the public on no/low cost opportunities for physical activity in the county. 4) Increase appropriate use of healthcare.
2014 health ranking

Feller said Hamilton County ranks high in the state for obesity and death rates.
“Here in Hamilton, average life expectancy is four to five years less than Florida residents as a whole,” said Feller. “Across the nation and in Florida, heart disease is the number one cause of death. For Hamilton County residents, cancer is elevated to the number one cause of death.”

Feller said the number of women in Hamilton County who go for regular mammography and pap screenings is low.

“That’s not good,” he said.

Unintentional injury is the fourth leading cause of death in Florida, but it is number three in Hamilton County, Feller said, and is usually driven by motor vehicle crashes, which comprises about 50-60 percent of those type deaths.

“In communities that are rural, you can get farm-related accidents, and you can also have some drownings and things of that nature,” said Feller.

Diabetes is number seven in the state, and in Hamilton County it is number six as the cause of death.

Community health survey
Early results that have come in from the non-scientific health survey show that about 78 percent of the respondents were female and 36 percent were between 40-49 years old. Of those, 60 percent were white and almost 35 percent were African American, with the balance being other ethnicities. Additionally, almost 62 percent said they had private insurance through their place of employment.

“In general, you have to hit a man over the head with a club to participate in surveys,” Feller said, which gave everyone a laugh. “So, we have a female bias in the results, so far,” he added.

One of the questions asked was to identify the three most important health problems in the community. The predominant answer was cancer, followed by high blood pressure and diabetes.

Another question asked respondents to identify three behaviors that have the greatest impact on the overall health of the community. The number one answer was drug abuse, followed by not exercising, eating unhealthy foods, overeating and alcohol abuse.

Other questions dealing with obesity and overweight issues revealed that the community thinks fast food is inexpensive and healthy food is too expensive. Also, people either don’t know how to change that behavior or simply don’t want to. Surprisingly, or not, about 54 percent of those surveyed rated their own personal health as somewhat healthy.

“We see that so many in our community are concerned about accessibility to healthcare and a challenged educational system, and the lack of economic opportunities being paramount (the top three) concerns adversely affecting the quality of life in our community as it relates to needs the respondents to the Community Health Assessment Survey expressed,” Bullard said after the meeting. “I will be sharing this assessment with a wide range of interested parties in our county, and I know, like me, they will be most interested to read the results.”

Medical marijuana
Grace McDonald, executive director for the Drug and Alcohol Coalition, spoke about her agency’s plans for the new fiscal year, as well as their sister organization, Tobacco Free Partnership. She encouraged everyone in the group to attend their meetings as they begin a fresh fiscal year.

One item of particular importance that is coming up on the November ballot, McDonald said, is the controversial medical marijuana initiative and some recent amendments to it. Florida voters will decide which way the state will go, whether for or against. McDonald said there are too many loopholes in the legislative bill and it has the potential to cause abuse of the drug, especially among youth.

“Parents should be very upset,” McDonald said. “This amendment allows no age limit or requirements for parental consent. So, you need to know those facts before you go to the polls to vote.”
Sapphire Award

Feller advised the Hamilton County committee that he had just received an e-mail from the Florida Blue Foundation announcing the 2015 Sapphire Awards were coming up and that he would be honored to be their nominator for the award.

“Many years ago, you received a grant from the Blue Foundation to start your voluntary pharmaceutical assistance program,” Feller told the group. “It was two years of funding.”

Closing date for nominations is Sept. 19. Nominees can be deserving individuals, programs or non-profit organizations in the healthcare field, whose work is distinguished by leadership, innovations and achievements in community health. Feller said he strongly believed the Hamilton group would have an excellent chance of getting an award.

“Honorees will share approximately $360,000 in award funds,” Feller said. “They give out about five or six and the average award is about $60,000. This is an award to honor your performance.”

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