Dependencies and obesity cited as county’s top health concerns

County heath advocates, officials and administrators met in Montrose on Thursday afternoon for the community forum outlining the priorities of community health in Lee County for the next three years. The forum was part of three-year Community Health Needs Assessment done by the Lee County Health Department in conjunction with Fort Madison Community Hospital and UnityPoint Health in Keokuk. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


MONTROSE – About 33 county health administrators, officials, and advocates met in Montrose Thursday afternoon to discuss the county’s health priorities through 2021.

The Lee County Health Department, in conjunction with UnityPoint Health in Keokuk and Fort Madison Community Hospital, conducts the three-year assessment to identify and program for the top health related issues facing the county.

Newly installed LCHD Director Michelle Ross said the forum is held after data has been received and processed from surveys that were distributed to county residents this summer.

“We had hoped to get about 1,000 surveys returned and we were able to get 1,050,” she told the group at the Montrose Riverfront Farmer’s Market building.

After going through the demographics of the study, which indicated about a 3-to-1 women to men ratio on survey respondents, Ross listed what the respondents indicated were the issues with the greatest impact on health. Forty-six percent of the respondents were between the ages of 45-64 and 93% of respondents were white. Another telling demographic was that 39% of the respondents had a household income of more than $80,000 and 56% were college grads.

Alcohol and drug abuse was identified as the top health concern and the issue having the greatest impact on health. The other five leading health concerns in the county are obesity, mental health, cancer, diabetes, and prescription drug abuse. Twenty five other issues were cited.

After alcohol and drug abuse on the greatest impact on health question, obesity was second followed by poor eating habits, living in poverty, being unemployed, and tobacco use were the top six. Seventeen other issues were indicated on the survey.

Emily Biddenstadt, the community outreach coordinator for LCHD then moderated a discussion among the 33 people in attendance as to what areas those in the room thought needed to be focus areas.

Those six issues were Obesity, Alcohol and Drug Dependency, Tobacco use, Mental Health, Prescription Drug abuse and teen pregnancy.

Attendees were then divided up into six groups to develop a rough idea of goals, strategies, and what agencies would be needed for a partnership to achieve the goals.

“What we want to come out of today is the selection of health priorities for the next three years,” Ross said. “And we want community engagement, it can’t just be the health department and the hospitals working on this and driving it. It has to be full community engagement from organizations and partners and concerned citizens, that are willing to work on these issues and develop strategic activities that will help change some of the scary data in the community.”

She said as the taskforces are identified for each priority and work begins within each one, more stakeholders get involved with helping set the plans for each group.

Ross said they will put together the results of Thursday’s forum and create a summary document of what’s going to happen and then bring stakeholders back together.

“We really won’t have the plan developed until the new year, and then we have to submit that to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Then we can move forward with implementation in 2019,” she said.

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