Curry County Begins Wide Ranging Health Assessment
December 6, 2011—The health department of Curry County, Oregon’s southern most coastal county, is undertaking a comprehensive community health assessment that will determine the health needs of its 20,000 residents and help tailor the health department’s programs and services.
The assessment will gather data on a wide range of information, including the county’s demographic characteristics, socio-economic information, availability of healthcare resources (such as access to hospitals and clinics), quality of life, behavioral health risks, environmental health indicators (such as air quality), maternal child health, and statistics on death, illness, injury, and communicable diseases.
The data will be culled from Census data, Oregon’s Office of Rural Health, the state’s Public Health Division, and other sources. Data collection began last month, and a draft of the assessment is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The health department decided that individualized assessments will be done for each of Curry County’s three communities: Brookings, Gold Beach, and Port Orford. Jan Kaplan, director of the county’s health and human services department, said that such assessments typically reflect information, trends, and generalizations on a county-wide scale.
But it is particularly challenging to do such an assessment for Curry County, because the three communities are so demographically distinct that “their populations are not all similar,” Kaplan said.
For instance, the county’s majority of families and children live in Brookings, which has a population of 14,000 people. Gold Beach and Port Orford have much smaller populations—approximately 4,000 people and 2,000 people, respectively—and higher percentages of people over the age of 65.
And Annette Klinefelter, the health department’s community health programs manager and who is in charge of conducting the assessment, said the county’s retiree population is generally fairly affluent, while 65 percent of the county’s children are eligible for the school district’s free and reduced lunch program.
Because of those demographic characteristics, Kaplan said, it would easy for a county-wide assessment to have skewed data that would quickly become irrelevant to a particular community. “A Curry County plan doesn’t make a lot of sense for Port Orford, for example,” he said.
Once the assessment is completed, “vision councils” will be formed in each community to determine priorities and strategies for improving the health of the county’s residents. Klinefelter said those vision councils will be made up of 15 to 20 individuals representing elected and school officials, business leaders, consumers, healthcare providers, and the Native American community. They are scheduled to begin meeting during the second week of January.
The assessment and the vision councils, she said, “will develop a clear plan for each community” and a “barometer” for how to improve health.
To illustrate how data can be used to improve health and related services, Kaplan used the example of recent changes made to some roadways in Curry County as the result of investigating why the county had a high number of “years of life lost,” or the difference in years between when a person dies and average life expectancy.
“It didn’t make a lot of sense to us, but we did some processing [and] we realized that our roads are pretty dangerous,” Kaplan said. Each year, he said, there are a couple significant car accidents that result in young drivers dying.
“It’s not just collecting the data, it’s processing the data that is key,” he said.