HUNTERDON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
HEALTH SURVEY RESULTS GOOD AND BAD FOR HUNTERDON COUNTY
Results are in for the recent public health telephone survey of county residents. Some of the news is good. Some of it, not so good. But the far-reaching survey produced real, tangible findings that should give residents pause, and focus.
"Clearly, we're encouraged about the progress but we're also concerned about current negative trends, "said John Beckley, county health officer and director of the Hunterdon County Department of Health.” Because there is so much good news to celebrate, it brings into serious focus those health challenges that persist or are emerging as we move forward."
More than 1,000 county households participated in the 121-question survey managed by Holleran Consulting, a professional firm based in Mountville, Pennsylvania. The survey is a project of the "Partnership for Health" Hunterdon County's healthier communities initiative, receiving funding from Hunterdon Healthcare Partners LLC, Hunterdon Healthcare, Hunterdon United Way, as well as two county health department grants. Known as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), the data offers a benchmark not only of current county health behaviors and choices but also an excellent comparative of similar behaviors for the past 15 years. This provides a valuable look at where the local health community is achieving success in its programs and where future resources should be directed.
The good news begins with the finding that Hunterdon County is very healthy when compared with the rest of New Jersey and with the country. Along similar lines, this year's county health rankings study of the nation's 3,016 counties by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute found that Hunterdon County ranked as the healthiest county in the state.
More good news. According to this latest BRFSS done between October and November, 74 percent of county residents report that their general health is excellent or very good; this is up from 63 percent in 2005. Another significant trend is the fact that today only 5 percent of residents smoke cigarettes daily; this continues a decrease from 9 percent in 2005, and 12 percent in 2001. Also positive is the finding that county residents who have health insurance coverage is still high; but it dropped from 95 percent to 93 percent during the past five years.
Other areas of solid healthy behavior: Dental care trends are good in Hunterdon County with 83 percent of residents seeing a dentist during the previous year; those who did not go to the dentist reported the main reasons being cost or no problems with teeth. Ninety four percent of the county women over 40 who responded to the survey reported having a mammogram; this is the same as in 2005. The current survey shows an improvement where far fewer residents now report having a heart attack or angina; 4 percent vs. 13 percent in 2005. And more had their cholesterol checked in this current survey; 89 percent vs. 85 percent in 2005. Perhaps because of last year's pandemic, significantly more residents have had a flu shot during the previous 12 months, a leap to 48 percent vs. 28 percent in 2005. Also favorable, 73 percent of surveyed residents feel that electronic health records will improve the quality and coordination of their care. Another significant jump is seen where 41 percent of county residents report having been tested for HIV; this is up from 34 percent in 2005.
But not everything is good news.
The survey also found out that more county residents are now obese or overweight; 55 percent vs. 51 percent in 2005. And more residents are now diagnosed with high blood pressure; 25 percent vs. 23 percent in 2005. Plus, alcohol consumption is generally up, as is binge drinking (4-5 or more drinks on one occasion). For routine care, only 70 percent of Hunterdon residents see a physician for check-ups; this is less than the statewide average of 82 percent. In the latest survey, 23 percent of county residents report having been diagnosed with a chronic condition. Twelve percent were told they have "pre-diabetes" or "diabetes."
The survey also cites that more sunburn is being reported and there is less use of sunblock; this is an important finding because melanoma skin cancer rates are relatively high in the county. Hunterdon County also shows an increase in the number of residents reporting Lyme disease; 5 percent vs. 3 percent in 2005. On another front, 20 percent of county respondents reported feeling sad, blue or depressed in past month according to the latest survey.
The true value of the survey’s comprehensive data is well explained by Robert Wise, President and CEO of Hunterdon Healthcare who added, “Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress earlier this year, all non-profit hospitals nationwide will be required to perform a community needs assessment and adopt a written implementation strategy to address identified community needs. It is gratifying to know that the Partnership for Health's approach to improve the health of Hunterdon County residents is now the law of the land. Our 15-year track record of collaboration has made a difference in the lives and life-spans of thousands of county citizens. Using what we learned in previous surveys, the Hunterdon Healthcare System and the County Health department have focused on diet and nutrition, heart disease, and behavioral health. We will use the latest data to examine the success of our current programs and introduce new services that will directly benefit those residents with the greatest health needs."
For the full BRFSS report, see www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/pdf/health/BRFSS/2010-BRFSS.PDF or go to www.hunterdonhealthcare.org.