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Committee identifies county's health priorities

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GINA R. HEINE
June 10, 2009
— A group working on Rock County's health needs assessment has identified five health priorities to boost the county's score from the bottom of the state rankings.

The planning committee identified health priorities as:


-- Environmental: Rock County ranked last in the state for environmental health indicators such as radon, nitrates and lead.


-- Mental health: A survey of local residents showed mental health was one of the most serious health-related issues, and more than 40 percent of survey respondents "did not know" or were "not sure" about available mental health services.


-- Substance abuse: Rock County ranks 69th out of 72 counties in the state for cigarette smoking, and more than one out of four adults binge drink.


-- Wellness: More than half of Rock County adults are overweight and/or obese, and more than three out of four adults do not eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.


-- Resources/cultural competency: Cultural competency is attitudes and policies that help agencies or professionals be more effective in cross-cultural situations.


"Cultural competency is something that permeates the whole system," said Karen Cain, Rock County Public Health Officer. "It is a part of all of these other priorities … It goes beyond race and ethnicity. We have to look at age, socio-economic status."


Cain presented the priorities during two community meetings Tuesday at Hedberg Public Library. The meetings included time for participants to discuss the priorities and list resources in the community that can address them.


"It's not like these are the only issues, there's a lot of issues," said Carol Roth, a consultant working with the committee. "The community health needs assessment is intended to change the population health of the county—to look at the issues that have the biggest impact on the total county is really the goal."


The priorities were selected after reviewing data, conducting a local survey and discussion, Cain said.


Ideas developed Tuesday will be added to the group's final report, which will be available next month. The health department will present the report to the Rock County Board of Health, which will direct the health department on which areas it should focus, Cain said.


Community members signed up at the meetings to help in areas that interest them.


"We want to work with them to organize a coalition, a group of people, who would be interested in working on this particular priority area," Cain said. "The health department can't do it all. ... We will take a piece of it as suggested or as directed by our board of health and work on the pieces that are pertinent to our health department."


The University of Wisconsin 2008 County Health Rankings released in November showed Rock County ranked 69th out of 72 counties and the city of Milwaukee for health determinants.



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