The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 23, 2013

Ashtabula County health assessment task forces report progress

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — Follow-up work on the county’s Health Needs Assessment Survey released last year is continuing in the three major focus areas.

The assessment created a snapshot of the community’s health by surveying the members of several hundred households. The assessment is used by the Ashtabula County Department of Health to spot trends, note service deficiencies and prioritize public health outreach efforts.

The survey showed the county’s suicide rate is higher than the norm for the state and nation, and depression and other mental health issues are more prevalent. A task force was formed to identify existing resources for dealing with the issues and locating gaps in service.

Similar task forces also were created for childhood obesity and chronic illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.

The task forces have met several times independent of each other. On Thursday, they came together at the County Department of Health to report on their progress to Health Commissioner Raymond Saporito and each other.

Members of the mental health/suicide prevention group noted a suicide screening program for youth between the ages of 13 and 18 will be available this spring to county schools under a grant through Community Counseling Center. The assessment revealed the percentage of county youth who reported thinking about committing suicide was substantially higher than the statistics for the state and nation.

The childhood obesity group is working on a resource sheet to help parents who want to find dietary and recreational resources for their children. As the concept of resource sheets was explored by the entire group, the idea of pulling resource information from all three task forces into one loose-leaf binder was suggested The binders full of local resources would be distributed to primary-care doctors, who often don’t have connections to or awareness of community resources that can help their patients.

For example, although Ashtabula County has had a Koman nurse for eight years, there are still many patients and doctors unaware of the breast cancer resource.

Ashtabula City Health Commissioner Christine Hill said the guide would have to be developed with a regional focus, which is the trend.

“Eventually, we’re going to have to wrap our arms around the northeast region,” she said.

The task force groups will report back to the department on May 30. Saporito said the whole objective of their work is to eventually come up with a community health improvement plan that reduces the most pressing public health threats.

“It’s a daunting task,” Saporito said.