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Community Health Assessment reveals needs in Fairfield County

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FAIRFIELD COUNTY − The Fairfield County Health Department completed an assessment of the community’s health status and needs that they are required to conduct every three years. The Community Health Assessment (CHA) revealed how the health department can work to help the Fairfield County community.

According to Health Commissioner of the Fairfield County Health Department Joe Ebel, this assessment can give the health department guidance on needs in the community that have to be addressed.

“The big thing is looking at where we need to improve,” said Ebel. “Compared to 2019 to now, what areas do we need to address that are starting to slide. We also look at it based on, what’s the state average or what’s the U.S. average for that.”

Some of the areas that have been identified as needs in the community include drug and alcohol abuse, mental health care access, transportation, and health education.

“One of them was drug and alcohol abuse and misuse,” said Ebel. “The other one was mental health care access. Those are both somewhat related, but not always. We’ll have a committee that will work on both of those areas. Transportation they felt was a major barrier to health care access. Depending on where you live in the county, income levels, things like that, it makes it difficult to access health care. Then the other was health communication and health education. Trying to provide information to people so they can make informed decisions about their own health, but also trying to let people know what services are out there in the community.”

One cause of many of the problems facing the Fairfield County community today can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ebel said that specifically mental health issues in the community are likely caused in part by the pandemic.

“That was one of the keys that we wanted to look at,” said Ebel. “I think that’s why a lot of the mental health issues come up more in this survey, especially anxiety. I think that’s why two of the four factors that we identified as priorities were related to mental health.”

Household surveys and interviews were conducted as a part of the CHA, with a total of 700 Fairfield County adult residents participating. These surveys helped reinforce the idea that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on mental health in the community.

Ebel said that he was surprised to see just how much mental health problems had increased over the last three years.

“I was surprised how much of a mental health impact we had seen over the last three years,” said Ebel. “The number of people that reported ever having a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder went from 19.5% all the way up to 28.6% this year. So, that’s pretty significant.”

One way that the health department plans on responding to mental health concerns and other issues raised by this assessment is through the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP).

“The Community Health Improvement Plan is the next step that we’re beginning to work on,” said Ebel. “We take all the findings from this assessment, the priorities we identified, and start looking at what’s our plan to try to address those priorities.”

Now that the health department has their findings from the CHA and have begun work on CHIP, they will be setting their sights on helping the Fairfield County community with the various health needs that they are looking for.

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