County sees health progress, struggles with obesity

Brian Long, Memorial Healthcare president and CEO, speaks Tuesday during the unveiling of the results of the 2019 Shiawassee County Community Health Needs Assessment.

OWOSSO — A community health assessment this year is showing positive changes from past efforts, officials said Tuesday as they unveiled results of the 2019 study.

Area residents gathered at Memorial Healthcare to view the results of the 2019 Shiawassee Community Health Needs Assessment, which was completed by Memorial Healthcare and the Shiawassee Health Department, with input from multiple area agencies, nonprofits and other organizations.

“We do this because we have an obligation through our mission and vision as an organization to meet the healthcare needs that are relevant to Shiawassee County. When we get this kind of information, it helps us build the programs and provide the resources to address these health issues,” Memorial Healthcare President and CEO Brian Long said.

The presentation included key findings on health care, prevention, women’s health, oral health, drug and alcohol consumption, mental health and several different diseases and ailments.

Tessa Elliot, a Community Health Improvement coordinator with the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio (HCNO), presented the results. The HCNO designed and administered the survey.

The organization has been conducting assessments since 1999, and in Shiawassee County since 2011. The current report is based on data collected from February to April 2019.

“There have been such significant changes in a positive direction,” Elliot said.

Larry Johnson, director of the Shiawassee County Health Department, said some of the big things that stand out to him are that obesity remains a problem and there hasn’t been a lot of progress made toward addressing the causes.

“It’s just eye-opening once you see the numbers. It could seriously injure you or kill you. I think a lot of kids feel like it’s not as damaging as cigarettes, so that has to be a focus area,” he said.

In Shiawassee County, 77 percent of residents indicated they were either obese or overweight, which is the same as in 2016. Sixty-one percent of residents say they are engaged in some type of physical activity for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. Only about a third of people ate one to two servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

On a positive note, Johnson said, there have been increased rates of vaccination among the 65-and-older population. The Shiawassee County Health Department has been conducting outreach to that population to increase rates.

Shiawassee County is doing better than the state and nation in terms of health coverage.

Ninety-three percent of residents said they have some form of coverage, whether it’s private insurance, Medicaid or some other type. The most common reasons cited for not having coverage were cost, job change or they were ineligible at work.

In Michigan, in 2017, 8 percent of the population was uninsured and 11 percent nationally — which is the most recent year the CDC conducted a survey.

In 2019, 79 percent of adults in Shiawassee County visited a doctor for a routine checkup, up from 70 percent in 2016.

Long pointed to new services coming online, such as Great Lakes Bay Health, for increased visits.

With the increase in routine visits, Elliot said an increase in preventative care was noted.

Fifty-seven percent of adults over the age of 50 had a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy in the past five years.

Sixty-seven percent of women indicated they had a mammogram at some point in their life, and 77 percent of women older than 40 had one in the past two years. Those numbers were roughly the same as 2016.

One of the high marks of the assessment was oral health.

Seventy-six percent of residents reported visiting the dentist in 2018. Those numbers are up from 68 percent in 2016.

For those who hadn’t, the No. 1 reason cited was cost, at 25 percent, with fear of pain at 14 percent.

The number of people who rated their health as good stayed from the results in 2016 at 44 percent. The remaining rated their health as either not good or very poor.

There was an increase in the number of people who reported their mental health has decreased.

“It’s turning into an epidemic with people indicating they’re depressed. Forty-four percent of people in Shiawassee County said they feel sad or hopeless,” Elliot said.

Elliot said she has not seen a county improve in the mental health category since she started conducting the assessments.

The drivers of that include job stress and finances. She said in young people the No. 1 reason is anxiety about academic performance.

Another strategic priority after the 2016 assessment was to decrease substance abuse, and the county has made progress.

Fifty-seven percent of adults said they had consumed alcohol in the past month, with 16 percent as saying they are binge drinkers. Binge drinking decreased from 23 percent in 2016.

Elliot said the drug use numbers are generally underreported because people feel uncomfortable answering a question about using illicit substances when their name is attached to a survey.

Only 6 percent of adults said they had used prescription drugs not prescribed to them, which is down from 16 percent in 2016.

Eleven percent of adults said they had used marijuana recreationally, up from 9 percent in 2016. Fifty percent of adults under 30 said they had used marijuana recreationally in the past six months.

Seventeen percent of residents identified themselves as current smokers and 30 percent said they were former smokers. The numbers are about the same since 2016, and comparable to the state and nation.

In Shiawassee County, the most common age group for smokers was under 30. Those in attendance pointed towards the increase in e-cigarette use as the main cause.

Fifty-nine percent of adults believed e-cigarette vapor was harmful to themselves.

The final strategic priority of the 2016 assessment was to increase access to mental health care. Elliot said there has been progress made in the county but that overall stress and depression remain high.

In 2019, 2 percent of adults reported they considered suicide in the past year, a decrease from 3 percent in 2016. Twenty-six percent of adults indicated they or a family member had taken medication for one or more mental health issues.

Financial stress and job stress each caused the most stress/ anxiety at 37 and 34 percent respectively.

Fifteen percent of residents experienced hunger/food insecurity in the past year. Elliot said that was higher than the average of about 5 to 7 percent she is used to seeing.

At the end of the meeting, there was a workshop during which participants discussed the assessment’s findings and formed strategic priorities going forward.

Attendees said the most important topics were obesity, mental health, especially among young people, and vaping.

Bonnie Blaker said she wanted to attend the event as a community resident to get a better understanding of the heath needs in the county. There were a few things that stood out to her.

“I was surprised by the mental health needs and the obesity issues,” Blaker said.

Long said that he would like to see a better focus on the youth going forward and cited that 44 percent of ninth through 11 graders felt sad or hopeless, something he called alarming.

“Mental health is not funded like other areas and that problem continues to grow. There just isn’t adequate funding. If we’re not tackling that problem, then what are we doing?” he said.

The multiple agencies involved with the 2019 assessment will now craft strategic priorities going forward.

“We had a team of agencies from around the county that created the questions for the survey,” said Rebecca Dahlke, community resource manager at Memorial. “The goal of it is to find what the needs for Shiawassee County are — not just health care wise — but things like transportation, and what kind of resources our community needs to provide the best healthcare possible.”

Dahlke said the assessment is required as part of the Affordable Care Act and must be conducted every three years.

The assessment was conducted in coordination with the Shiawassee County Health Department and the Health Needs Assessment Team.

Elliot said that year to year, about 80 percent of the questions in the survey have remained the same, so researchers can establish trend lines.

The assessment included many of the same questions the CDC uses on its health survey.

County residents 19 and older were randomly chosen and mailed a survey. In total, 1,200 assessments were sent out and 355 were returned.

To view Shiawassee County results, visit

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