If your phone rings in the next two months and you participate in a short survey, you could be helping shape the future of health in Western North Carolina.
WNC Healthy Impact is an initiative among the 16 local health departments and nonprofit hospitals in the region that is gauging Western North Carolina residents’ health needs.
Although local health departments have been conducting state-required assessments for many years, this is the first time they are partnering with hospitals.
“With the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are now required to do these assessments,” said Gibbie Harris, director of the Buncombe County Department of Health. “We don’t want to overwhelm communities with too many health assessments, so we are working on this together.”
The initiative is in the data-gathering stage, Harris said. WNC Healthy Impact is trying to get a clear snapshot of regional health issues through a telephone survey that takes about 15 minutes and consists of 75 questions, she said. Harris said 200 to 300 people in each county will be called to create a significant data pool.
“We’ll be asking about access to health care, what types of foods people eat, their health histories,” Harris said. That information will be combined with health demographics from hospitals and health departments, with special attention to areas of health disparity. Infant mortality, obesity, diabetes and heart disease most likely will be the focus of initiatives, she said.
John Price, the director of the state’s Office of Rural Health and Community Care said one main health disparity to watch for in Western North Carolina is access to care.
“There are 1.6 million uninsured people in our state,” Price said. “Many of them are not aware of the safety networks we have.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 estimate, North Carolina’s population is about 9.7 million.
Robin Callahan, a registered dietician who works with patients on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Qualla Boundary, said she also thinks access to care is the most important health issue facing residents of Western North Carolina.
“Even when health care is free, as it is to the Indians on the reservations, people still may live far away from providers,” Callahan said. Access to healthy foods follows access to care, she said, with many of her patients reporting more fast food available in their communities than fresh produce.
The survey will be completed by August, Harris said. And by December, she said the initiative will have a collection of health topics they’ll focus on during the next three to six years.
“The hope is that by looking at this regionally, there may be some similarities,” Harris said. “Then we can have policy changes be more effective with the resources that we have.”