Pre-Pandemic Health Assessment Spotlights County’s Top Concerns

SNOW HILL – The latest data shows that mental health, substance abuse and physical inactivity are key concerns for Worcester County.

The 2021 Community Health Assessment released by the Worcester County Health Department highlights the health issues facing the community. The assessment is based on 2019 data.

“Our data is pre-pandemic,” said Jennifer LaMade, the health department’s director of planning, quality and core services. “State data lags two years. We won’t be able to look at COVID data and the impact of COVID until next year.”

LaMade presented the health assessment to the Worcester County Commissioners this week. She said that the assessment, which is typically done every three to five years, was started in January 2020, just before the pandemic began. When COVID-19 became an issue, the process slowed and much was done virtually. The health department didn’t change its MAPP—Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships—practice, however.

“We used that process throughout the assessment to make sure that we’re not only looking at quantitative data but that we’re also talking to citizens and community members to see what’s important to them, what’s important to their health and how they would like to see the county health improved,” she said.

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Delays related to COVID actually gave staff more time to review the relevant data.

“We really looked at racial inequities, gender inequities, inequities based on your zip code and where you live. As a part of that, we, through our town halls and though looking at the data and having work group meetings, we have selected three priorities to focus on in Worcester County for the next three years.”

Those priorities are mental health, substance abuse and physical inactivity/obesity.

“They’re not anything shocking or new,” LaMade said.

The 2019 data, and input from the community, showed that mental health continues to decline. Adolescent substance abuse is also a problem.

“We’re finding a lot of our teenagers are using substances and that we also have black/white disparities in that,” she said. “We see more Caucasian high school students binge drinking than necessarily African American high school students. And there’s some other disparities there as well.”

According to the health assessment, in 2018 the percentage of Worcester County high school students who used tobacco or electronic vapor products was 41%, significantly higher than the state rate of 27%. Binge drinking rates among high school students are also higher in Worcester than they are in the state, as are rates of substance abuse. The assessment reveals that current marijuana use among high school students increased from 21.2% in 2016 to 26.4% in 2018.

LaMade said the county’s third priority moving forward is physical inactivity/obesity.

“Obviously they have the greatest impact on chronic diseases and we want to improve those,” she said.

LaMade said the health department had created work groups to target the three issues. Those groups are now meeting and discussing initiatives going forward.

“We will then be publishing the community health improvement plan,” she said. “That will have all the goals and objectives.”

To view the entire 2021 Community Health Assessment, visit the “Resources” tab at worcesterhealth.org.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.