02/19/09 — Health officials set sights on plan

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Health officials set sights on plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 19, 2009 1:46 PM

Figuring out a road map for public health in Wayne County is tricky business, local health officials say.

But through regular community health assessments and surveys, that could be changing for the better.

The Wayne County Health Department held a strategic planning session Wednesday, inviting partnering agencies to discuss the community's health status, review key trends and develop a plan to improve services.

Among those in attendance were representatives from Wayne Memorial Hospital, Smart Start, Communities in Schools, WATCH, WAGES, Goldsboro Pediatrics, Family Y, Mount Olive College, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Wayne County Public Schools and county government.

Primary goals include reducing the burden of chronic disease, teen pregnancy and out of wedlock births; workforce development and employee retention; decrease infant mortality; protecting residents from communicable disease and environmental factors that could cause death or injury; and improving customer service and access to care for county citizens.

Every four years, the Health Department is required to do a comprehensive health assessment, said Carolyn King, health education supervisor. The most recent survey netted 610 responses.

Diabetes and obesity rates are climbing, with 26 states seeing increases of diabetes in the last year, said Stephanie Howard, registered dietitian with the Health Department.

North Carolina ranks 10th in the nation, and has the fifth highest rate of obese children. That number has steadily gone up for the third straight year, Mrs. Howard said.

Grants and programs are sometimes available but efforts to increase activity among children are still needed.

"Preventive funds are not there. Children are not referred to me until there's a problem," Mrs. Howard said.

"Preventive health care is something that we're really not doing well in Wayne County," said Dr. Chris Dyer of Mount Olive College, where the "Fitness by Design" exercise program was introduced last year through federal funding. Unfortunately, the fitness program only targets at-risk adults.

"We're getting more calls about children," he said. "We need to think of ways to expand and broaden this. ... How do we get these kids back? Do we have any success stories?"

"I do, but not enough," Mrs. Howard answered.

A family approach is beneficial, she said, suggesting parents model the behavior they want their children to follow. Eating fast food themselves while expecting the child to eat healthy is unrealistic.

Health Director Dr. James Roosen said more areas need to be made available for children to play outdoors safely, such as parks . Dyer said he is advocating for a bike trail from Mount Olive to Goldsboro.

Recurrent issues faced in public health were also discussed, especially heart disease and lung cancer, STDs and communicable disease.

There has been a resurgence in sexually-transmitted diseases. Roosen said he also wants to focus more on HIV, since the county is ranked 10th in the state for AIDS.

"There are currently over 300 people in Wayne County living with HIV," he said.

Dr. Ashton Griffin, medical director for the Health Department, also spoke about the need for preventive care in the areas of heart disease and lung cancer. Diet and exercise might stave off heart problems, but he believes that lung cancer is entirely preventable.

"In the 50 years that I practiced medicine, I never treated a patient who died of lung cancer who didn't smoke," he said.

Griffin said his strategic plan would include offering smoking cessation classes, a resolution to have county employees who smoke pay a higher premium, assisting work sites with smoke-policies and a move to make public buildings smoke-free.